UK Biobank data has shown that people who eat red and processed meat at least seven times a week are 40 per cent more likely to get bowel cancer, compared to those who eat meat once a week or less.
These new findings were presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool.
Following news from the International Agency for Research into Cancer that eating red or processed meat is linked to cancer and that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day increases bowel cancer risk by 18 per cent, these new results from researchers at Oxford University look at the risks based on how often people eat red and processed meat.
Over four years of the study, three in 1,000 people who ate meat every day developed the disease compared with two in 1,000 of those who ate meat no more than once a week.
Scientists studied the diets of half a million UK people aged 40-69 years old to find out how much red and processed meat they ate and whether this affected their risk of bowel cancer.
Red meat includes beef, lamb or pork, and processed meats include bacon, ham, and some sausages.
One-fifth of all bowel cancers diagnosed in the UK are thought to be caused by eating too much red and processed meat. The reason behind this is not fully understood, but may involve some of the naturally occurring chemicals in red meat and the preservatives in processed meat.
Around 41,900 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year and around 15,900 people die from their disease each year.
Dr Kathryn Bradbury, nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said: “Our research shows the impact of eating red and processed meat every day and is the first large UK study to look at the amount of meat people are eating now.
“By comparing those who eat meat every day with those who eat it once a week or less we can see the benefits of cutting down. If you’re eating red or processed meat every day it’s a good idea to try having meat-free days or swapping red meat for chicken or fish.”
Professor Charles Swanton, chair of the 2015 NCRI cancer conference, said: “This research suggests how much higher the risk of bowel cancer is if you eat red or processed meats every single day. But the evidence is increasingly clear that cutting down on these meats – along with being a non-smoker, keeping a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, being physically active and eating a diet that is high in fibre could help to prevent half of bowel cancer cases.”
The research was conducted in UK Biobank, and funded by Cancer Research UK, The Girdlers’ Company, the New Zealand Health Research Council and the Medical Research Council.