Cancer is a very complex disease with many environmental and genetic factors affecting a person’s risk. So, it’s difficult to say with any certainty that any one behavior “causes” it. However, there is ample evidence today to support the statement that colon cancer risk increases as red meat consumption increases.
Red Meat and Colon Cancer: The Facts
In one U.S. study, the dietary patterns of participants were checked initially and then again 10 years later. People with a high consumption of red meat and processed meats at both dates had a substantially higher incidence of cancer in the lower colon and rectum. And this is just one of many studies that reach the same conclusion. By some estimates based on dozens of studies, a high consumption of red meat (five ounces or more per day) increases the risk of colon cancer by as much as 28 percent.
What Specifically is Red Meat?
If you are trying to cut back on the amount of red meat you eat, it’s important to know that it’s not just beef that gets this label. According to the World Health Organization, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, and goat qualify as well. And, while sausage is not a specific type of meat, many varieties of it contain beef or pork.
The most commonly consumed meats that do not fall into the red meat category are chicken and turkey. Fish, which many people think of as a “meat” of sorts, is also not included. Interestingly, the U.S. study mentioned above found that eating large amounts of poultry and fish is actually protective when it comes to colon cancer.
Alternative Protein Sources
One of the reasons people eat red meat is that it is a good source of protein. However, there are many alternatives that don’t increase the risk of colon cancer. Some of them include:
- Low-fat dairy
- Whole grains
- Chicken and turkey
Replacing one serving of red meat per day with one of the above can significantly reduce your risk of colon cancer. It’s a simple swap that makes good sense when you consider that the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 97,000 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed and more than 50,000 people will die from the disease in 2018.
Most cancer experts would likely agree that the occasional steak, hamburger or hotdog won’t significantly increase your colon cancer risk. But, making red meat the exception rather than the rule in your diet is definitely a wise choice.
The only way to know for certain if you have colon cancer is to see a doctor. Don’t put off your cancer screening — the earlier you catch colon cancer, the better your prognosis is likely to be. The risk of colorectal cancer increases dramatically with age. Take our colorectal cancer risk assessment to estimate your personal risk of developing colon and rectal cancer.