Cancer warning: Popular sandwich ingredient may increase your risk by 18% – ‘striking’

Cancer symptoms: Top 14 early signs to look out for

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Cancer rates are disheartening: nearly 10 million lives were lost to the deadly disease in 2020. The figures are sobering but the fight is not lost. Researchers continue to identify modifiable risk factors for cancer. Much of the focus has been on the relationship between diet and cancer risk.

According to a 2020 article published in the BMJ, the evidence linking red or processed meat to colorectal cancer is “striking”.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the world.

Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. These cancers can also be called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start.

“Ecological analyses show striking positive correlations between eating meat and colorectal cancer rates,” states the BMJ article.

It cited a meta-analysis published in the journal PLoS ONE, which reported an increase in risk of 17 percent for each daily 50 g increment in consumption of processed meat and 18 percent for each 100 g increment in consumption of red meat.

This damning conclusion partly informed the decision of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organization – to classify processed meat as carcinogenic to humans and unprocessed red meat as probably carcinogenic.

According to the BMJ article, the chemicals used to preserve processed meat, such as nitrates and nitrites, might increase exposure of the gut to mutagenic N-nitroso compounds.

These compounds are strong carcinogens that produce cancer.

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Both processed and unprocessed red meat also contain haem iron, which increases formation of N-nitroso compounds, the BMJ article states.

What other health bodies say

It is very difficult to research the link between diet and cancer. Scientists need to carry out very large studies to see which specific foods might reduce the risk of cancer, and which could raise the risk.

But health bodies have established that some foods can definitely affect the risk of bowel cancer.

“Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer,” reports Cancer Research UK.

According to the charity, it is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) in the UK are linked to eating these meats.

Processed meat is any meat that has been treated to preserve it and/or add flavour – for example, bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat or chicken nuggets. And a portion is about two sausages or three slices of ham.

The Government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less. 70g is the cooked weight. This is about the same as two sausages.

It’s worth noting that certain foods have been shown to reduce your risk.

“Eating lots of fibre reduces your risk of bowel cancer. Eating too little fibre causes around 30 in 100 bowel cancer cases (around 30 percent) in the UK,” says Cancer Research UK.

You can boost the fibre in your diet by choosing wholegrain versions of foods. To get more fibre in your diet try:

  • Swapping to brown rice, pasta or bread
  • Swapping your snack to low calorie popcorn rather than crisps
  • Choosing wholegrain breakfast cereals
  • Eating more fruit and vegetables high in fibre, such as peas and raspberries.

Cancer – symptoms to spot

According to the NHS, you should speak to a GP if you’ve noticed these changes and it’s lasted for three weeks or more:

  • Tummy discomfort
  • Blood in your poo
  • Diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
  • A feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
  • Pain in your stomach or back passage (anus).

The health body adds: “Speak to a GP if you’ve had bloating for three weeks or more.”

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