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50% of people in UK now aware of processed meat cancer risk

World Cancer Research Fund has released ‘encouraging’ new statistics that show an increased number of British adults are now aware of the cancer risks attached to eating processed meat compared to five years ago.

Comparing two YouGov polls showed that in November 2010 34 per cent of the British adult population was aware of the cancer risks of eating processed meat and that in November 2015, following the World Health Organization’s warning about processed meat, awareness increased to 50 per cent. Awareness in men increased from 35 per cent to 49 per cent and in women increased from 33 per cent to 51 per cent. 1, 2

World Cancer Research Fund has shown there is strong evidence that eating 50 grams of processed meat per day – the equivalent of one rasher of bacon – increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent. The strong evidence also shows that eating more than 500 grams of red meat (cooked weight) increases the risk of developing bowel cancer.3

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the fourth most common cancer in the UK with around 42,000 new cancer cases every year. However, bowel cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. It is estimated that nearly half (47%) of all bowel cancer cases in the UK could be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices. Ten per cent of bowel cancer cases could be prevented if people ate little or no processed meat.4

Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives. Examples include bacon, salami, hot dogs and some sausages if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives. Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb and goat – foods like hamburgers, minced beef, pork chops and roast lamb. There is not enough evidence yet about other red meats, such as duck and venison.

Amanda McLean, Director at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

“It is great news that more people are aware of eating processed meat and the risks of developing cancer. When it comes to bowel cancer prevention we recommend people eat little, if any, processed meat such as ham or bacon and eat no more than 500 grams of cooked red meat per week.

“It is important that we continue to see an increase in people’s awareness about processed meat and cancer risk. However, people also need to be aware that a number of other lifestyle choices such as drinking alcohol and being overweight can increase their risk of bowel cancer”.