Ditch the steak! The small amount of red meat ‘increasing bowel cancer risk’

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in Australia, with high consumption of red and processed meats one of the biggest risk factors of the disease. Source: Pixabay

Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer suffered by Aussies and while high consumption of red meat and processed meats can increase the risk, new research shows eating meat within official guidelines can also put people in danger.

Official guidelines state that weekly red meat intake should fall within 500g in New Zealand, and 455g in Australia, but a new study has suggested this could still be too high.

The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, also found every bottle of beer or small glass of wine could raise the risk of bowel cancer. In contrast, fibre from breads and breakfast cereals was found to lower the risk.

Researchers analysed 2,609 cases of colorectal cancer in the United Kingdom and found people who consumed an average of 76 grams of red and processed meat daily had a 20 per cent higher risk of a bowel cancer diagnosis than those who ate just 21 grams daily.

“This study shows we could prevent some of these cancers by changing our diets, consuming less red and processed meat and alcohol, and more whole grains,” lead author Dr Kathryn Bradbury said in a statement. “Think less beer and bacon, more bran and brown bread.”

The latest Australian stats show 5,375 people died of bowel cancer in 2016 and there were 15,604 new cases of bowel cancer in Australia in 2015. Meanwhile, researchers found the risk of developing bowel cancer rose 19 per cent with every 25 grams of processed meat. This is equal to a slice of ham or rasher of bacon.

It also increased 18 per cent for every 50 grams of red meat consumed, such as a thick slice of roast beef or lamb chop. A bottle of beer or glass of wine increases the risk of bowel cancer by 8 per cent, but people in the highest fifth for fibre intake from bread and breakfast cereals had a 14 percent lower risk of bowel cancer.

Researchers did not find a link between bowel cancer and consumption of fish, poultry, cheese, fruit, vegetables, tea or coffee. It’s one of the largest single studies and one of few to measure meat quantities and associated risks of bowel cancer.

“There’s substantial evidence linking red and processed meat to bowel cancer, and the World Health Organization (sic) classifies processed meat as carcinogenic and red meat as probably carcinogenic,” Bradbury said. “But most previous research looked at people in the 1990s or earlier, and diets have changed significantly since then. Our study gives a more up-to-date insight that is relevant to meat consumption today.”

Authors concluded that eating red and processed meat four or more times a week is linked to a higher risk of developing bowel cancer than eating it less than twice a week.

“You don’t have to cut out red and processed meat altogether, but this study shows that reducing how often and how much you eat meat, you have can reduce your risk of bowel cancer,” Bradbury said. “You can try having meat free lunches, or days, and swapping red meat for chicken, fish or legumes.”

Along with high red meat consumption, bowel cancer can be caused by high alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking, inflammatory bowel disease and genetics. It’s always important to talk to a GP or health professional if there are lifestyle factors you believe could be increasing your risk of bowel cancer.

Over-50s are also encouraged to complete a faecal occult blood test every two years. These free, non-invasive tests are sent in the post to those who are eligible as part of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

Do you think eating red meat can increase the risk of bowel cancer?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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