Eating too much processed meat may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, according to research published today.
The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer found that for each 50g of processed meat eaten every day – the equivalent of a sausage or two rashers of bacon – there was a 19% rise in the risk of pancreatic cancer compared to those who ate no meat.
However, experts explained that while a 19% increase might seem like a significant leap, it is in relation to a comparatively small risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
In the UK, the lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer is 1 in 77 for men and 1 in 79 for women.
The researchers at Karonlinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, analysed the results of 11 studies involving over 6,000 pancreatic cancer patients.
Evidence was inconclusive on the risks of eating red meat overall compared to eating no red meat. The results showed that there was a 29% increase in pancreatic cancer risk for men who ate 120g per day of red meat compared to those who ate no meat but no increased risk for women. This may be because men in the study tended to eat more red meat than women.
Study author, Associate Professor Susanna Larsson, said: “Pancreatic cancer has poor survival rates. So as well as diagnosing it early, it’s important to understand what can increase the risk of this disease.
“If diet does affect pancreatic cancer then this could influence public health campaigns to help reduce the number of cases of this disease developing in the first place.”
Smoking has a significantly higher impact, increasing the risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 74%.
Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said: “The jury is still out as to whether meat is a definite risk factor for pancreatic cancer and more large studies are needed to confirm this. But this new analysis suggests processed meat may be playing a role.
“We do know that, among lifestyle factors, smoking significantly ramps up the risk of pancreatic cancer. Stopping smoking is the best way to reduce your chances of developing many types of cancer and other diseases as well.”
About 8,090 people were diagnosed with the disease in the UK in 2008 – 3% of all cancer cases - and around 7,780 people died from it.
Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science at World Cancer Research Fund, said, as cited by the Press Association: "There is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of pancreatic cancer and this study may be an early indication of another factor behind the disease.
"Regardless of this latest research, we have already established a strong link between eating red and processed meat and your chances of developing bowel cancer, which is why WCRF (World Cancer Research Fund) recommends limiting intake of red meat to 500g cooked weight a week and avoid processed meat altogether."
Commenting on the study, Dr Carrie Ruxton, a nutritionist on the Meat Advisory Panel, said: “I am always cautious about drawing conclusions from these types of studies because they do not properly control for other factors which influence the cancer risk. NHS Choices states that the causes of pancreatic cancer are “not yet fully understood” but may include older age, smoking, blood group and inherited genes."
She added: “The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends that people with high intakes of red and processed meats – over 90g a day – consider reducing their intakes to around 70g per day. Nine of out ten women, and six out of ten men, are already eating recommended levels of red meat. The occasional bacon buttie won’t do you any harm, provided it is eaten as part of an overall balanced diet containing lean red meat, which is relatively low in fat, saturated fat and sodium. It is also worth noting that red meat contains a number of potential anti-cancer nutrients, such as folate, selenium and vitamins D and E. “