Does eating a hot dog increase your risk of cancer?

Pondering cancer in a bun (and everywhere else)

If it is on a billboard, it must be true …
Photo: Ryan Olbrysh

Just when I thought nothing could top the NFL’s pink shoes for breast cancer awareness, the frowning hot dog came into my life. Looking down from a Las Vegas Boulevard billboard, the forlorn frank is part of a nationwide assault launched by the nonprofit advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Known for promoting a vegan diet, it’s no surprise the PCRM has issues with the meat tubes beloved by so many Americans. But the ad campaign focuses on a “convincing” link to colorectal cancer published in a 2007 report by the American Institute for Cancer Research. It asserts that if you consume 50 grams of processed meat—approximately one hot dog—per day, your risk increases 21 percent.

That scared me, until I thought about how many hot dogs I’ve had this year (a third of a foot-long at a 51s game) and the fact that I’m also supposed to fear steak and diet soda, my dentist’s X-ray machine and the potentially lead-caked walls of my 1950s-era home. Carcinogens are everywhere.

The American Cancer Society keeps a running list of known and probable sources, and guess what, Las Vegas? Our party culture promotes the big ones: alcohol, cigarettes, sun and salt-cured foods. Moderation is key—unless you’re Joey Chestnut, who downed 62 hot dogs (and buns!) in 10 minutes at this year’s Coney Island challenge, making him a five-time winner. Apparently, some things are just worth the risk.


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