If you freaked out when a panel convened by the World Health Organization declared last week that processed meats such as bacon, sausages, ham and other cured products are a cause of colorectal cancer—and that red meat is a probable cause for cancer, too—don’t feel bad. Anthony Nguyen, a Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada oncologist specializing in gastrointestinal cancer and aerodigestive tumors, among other ailments, points out that complicated medical announcements like this one often require translation. “This was actually not a new study but a review of old data, and those studies are all consistent,” he says. “The classification is what’s important, and based on the strength of the evidence they’ve given it a Group 1 classification.”
Putting familiar, everyday foods into the same carcinogenic category as cigarettes is scary. We already know hot dogs aren’t good for us, but it’s important we know how bad they might be, even though the magnitude of cancer risk isn’t comparable to smoking cigarettes. WHO says eating 1.7 ounces of processed meat a day can increase your risk of colon cancer by 18 percent. “It’s a profound statement,” Nguyen says. “Not all processed meats are the same, so there is some difficulty in the study, and they wrote the risks increases by 17 percent if you eat 3.5 ounces of red meat a day. That’s a heavy hitter.
“While the literature and data is very consistent, more statistics and semantics can be very confusing. Does eating a hamburger cause cancer? No, it doesn’t say that. It’s wise to understand your genetics and risks and know this data exists and maybe modify your lifestyle if you want good odds. Everything is odds in Las Vegas, and yours are worse if you’re eating these types of foods.”