Is Processed Meat Going to Give You Cancer?

Is Processed Meat Going to Give You Cancer?

Dylan Dwyer, Staff Writer

Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that processed meat is linked to causing cancer. This claim has caused confusion for many people as it was vaguely explained, which would go on to confuse many reporters, which ended up causing many stories to be published with misinformation.

WHO released a claim stating that processed meat like bacon, hot dogs, and salami were definitely carcinogenic, much like smoking is. Red meat, like pork or beef, however, has also been noted by the WHO to be “probably” carcinogenic.

Many are taking it as if the WHO is saying processed meat is dangerous, which is not necessarily the case.”

— Dylan Dwyer

Processed and red meat have been particularly linked to colon cancer. It is stated that 50g of processed meat, which is about the same as two slices of bacon, will increase your risk 0.18 times if eaten weekly. Red meat is assumed to give around the same risk, but lacks enough research to be sure.

This is where the confusion comes in. Many are taking it as if the WHO is saying processed meat is dangerous, which is not necessarily the case. Though it is easy to see where the misunderstanding comes from.

The WHO didn’t explain how their risk-ranking system works. The fact that processed meat is ranked up there with cigarettes and alcohol makes it sound like it is a huge risk eating it; however, they actually weren’t ranking it by how dangerous it was.

They were actually just saying that it is something that can cause cancer, not that it’s something as dangerous as cigarettes.

So, how are things ranked?

The risk ranking system by the WHO is divided into 5 parts. Category 1 lists what is for sure able to cause cancer. 2a is for what is most likely able to cause cancer. 2b is for what possibly can. 3 is for unclassifiable substances, and 4 is for substances that most likely don’t cause cancer.

The way that things get ranked in their charts is through the amount of research that is done for each item, and how strong the research is. They have done enough research on processed meat to classify it under category 1. The WHO has stated that they currently don’t have enough research on red meat, though, so the most they can do currently is classify it under 2a.

That means processed meat is still dangerous, right?

Not really. It was ranked under category 1, sure, but you know what is ranked under category 4? Nylon. Nylon is the only thing that the WHO has stated to most likely not have any risk at all. Even then, just because they feel their research is strong enough to include processed meat in the list, doesn’t mean that the research is spot on. There are several things to take into consideration here. Did the people they were researching have any bad habits that could cause cancer? Did genetics come into play at all? What might the average age group be for the people researched? There are still a lot of variables to consider from research.

But, let’s go ahead and take a look at how dangerous eating processed meat really is. Remember that 50g of meat per week makes you 0.18 times more likely to get colon cancer. Smoking a cigarette makes you 25 times more likely to get lung cancer. Doesn’t sound very dangerous anymore now, does it? Looking at the overall lifetime risk of colon cancer, it seems even less dangerous. The average person’s lifetime risk of having colon cancer without eating processed meat is 5%. If you do eat processed meat, however, the risk only goes up to 6%.

The only point that the WHO was trying to convey is that your diet shouldn’t be heavily comprised of processed meat. The WHO even says that it still has its health benefits, as it still has nutrients. They just recommend you cut down on it if you eat a lot of processed meat.

In the end, processed meat causing cancer is a risk that people shouldn’t be too worried about. The overall risk is very small, and it still has its healthy aspects. If you’re someone enjoys bacon in the morning, there’s no need to stop; it’s not going to cause you anymore harm than it already does.