Understanding how meat consumption relates to cancer risk
According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries (and up to 20 percent of cancers in developing countries) are now related to dietary factors. Meat eating tends to be a common factor, with various international studies suggesting that vegetarians are less likely than meat eaters to develop cancer.
Various hypotheses have been offered to explain this relationship between meat eating and increased cancer risk, such as meat’s lack of fiber and other nutrients, and the presence of animal protein, saturated fat and, depending on cooking processes, the presence of carcinogenic compounds in meat.
This analysis by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) summarizes recent research about meat consumption and a variety of cancer-related topics, such as carcinogenic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in cooked meat, as well as international study results about meat consumption and breast, colorectal, prostate, and other cancers.
PCRM concludes that two themes emerge from these studies: vegetables and fruits reduce cancer risk, while meat, animal products and fatty foods are “frequently found to increase risk.” Increased dietary fat leads to the production of hormones, which promote the growth of cancer in the breast, prostate, and other “hormone-sensitive organs.”
Without the protective effects of phytochemicals, fiber, and antioxidants (so often found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables), and with high levels of saturated fat and compounds that are potential carcinogenic, meat is often associated with an increased risk of many types of cancer.