According to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer, individuals who consume too much processed or red meat may have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Researchers discovered that compared to individuals who ate no meat, for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed each day – equivalent to two rashers (streaks) of bacon or a sausage – the risk of pancreatic cancer increased by 19%.

The team found that red or processed meat increased the risk for men, although evidence was inconclusive for women. Men who consumed 120 grams of red/processed meat per day had a 29% increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those who ate no meat. This may be because women in the study consumed less red meat than men.

Even though a 19% increase seems high, it is an increase on top of a comparatively small chance of developing the disease. The lifetime risk of developing pancreatic cancer in the UK for women is 1 in 79 and 1 in 77 for men, compared to smoking which increases the risk by 74%. In 2008 in the UK, approximately 8,000 individuals were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – 3% of all cancer cases – and approximately 7,780 individuals died from the disease.

The team examined results from 11 studies involving more than 6,000 individuals with pancreatic cancer.

Associate Professor Susanna Larsson, study author based at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, explained:

“Pancreatic cancer has poor survival rates. So as well as diagnosing it early, it’s important to understand what can increase the risk of this disease.

If diet does affect pancreatic cancer then this could influence public health campaigns to help reduce the number of cases of this disease developing in the first place.”

Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, explained:

“The jury is still out as to whether meat is a definite risk factor for pancreatic cancer and more large studies are needed to confirm this. But this new analysis suggests processed meat may be playing a role.

We do know that, among lifestyle factors, smoking significantly ramps up the risk of pancreatic cancer. Stopping smoking is the best way to reduce your chances of developing many types of cancer and other diseases as well.”

Written by Grace Rattue