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Red meat associated with bowel cancer
Wednesday 6 September 2017

Red meat includes beef, veal, pork and lamb and is an important contributor to your dietary iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein.

However, the consumption of red meat is associated with a modest increased risk of bowel cancer. It is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a probable cause of colon and rectum cancers and the World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) classifies the association as convincing¹.

It is therefore recommended that you eat a healthy balanced diet with less red to help reduce your cancer risk.

How much red meat should we eat?

Advice form the World Cancer Research Fund, states that adults should eat no more than 500g of red meat per week (around 70g a day) and avoid processed meats.

Red meat is often discussed in association with processed meats. The Department of Health advises people who eat more than 90 grams (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day to cut down to 70 grams, which is the average daily consumption in the UK². This could help reduce your risk of bowel cancer.

What is defined as red meat?

Red meat includes:

- beef

- veal

- pork

- lamb

- venison

- goat

It does not include: turkey, chicken, duck, goose, game birds or rabbit.

Processed meats have been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. They include: sausages, bacon, ham, salami and pâtés.

How can I reduce my red meat intake?

You can reduce the amount of red meat you eat by choosing smaller portions of red meat, and by eating red meats less often. You can investigate other protein options and swap red meat for them or have meat-free days. This will help you keep within the 70g per day average.  It may be that you consume more one day and none another. This will balance your consumption.

How common is bowel cancer?

- Bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the UK.

- In the UK, each year there are estimated: 40,000 new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed. 16,000 people who die from bowel cancer.

- About one in every 20 people in the UK will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime.

- Almost nine out of ten people who develop bowel cancer are over 60².

Learn more about the symptoms of bowel cancer

If bowel cancer is detected early, it is more treatable. Early symptoms most often involve changes in your bowel habits. If you have blood in your stools or they have been looser for three weeks, see your doctor. Another symptom is persistent lower stomach pain or bloating.

What else can I do to reduce my risk of bowel cancer?

Risk factors of bowel cancer include: smoking, obesity and inactivity. Stopping smoking, working towards a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and becoming more active will reduce your risk.

Diagnosis and treatment of bowel cancer

If you’re concerned about bowel cancer, you should talk to your GP. They may refer you for further tests to look inside your bowels using an endoscope (thin telescope with camera and light source), known as sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy

Bowel cancer can be treated. Often a combination of different treatments including: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and biological treatments, are used based on where the cancer is in the bowel and how far it has spread.

Diagnostic tests at Mount Stuart Hospital

Our experienced team of specialists can perform diagnostic tests if you are worried you may have bowel cancer.

Call us on 01803 313 881 to arrange an appointment.


¹ http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/index.php

² http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/red-meat.aspx

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