Spare the sausages to reduce bowel cancer risk

Dr Ben Janaway II  NOV 172016

Leading cancer experts from around the world have highlighted an increased risk of cancer with processed and red meat consumption.  Although a link between high processed meat intake and cancer is longstanding, this seminal declaration provides clear warning.  An intake of 50g of processed meat a day can increase your risk of developing bowel cancer by 18%. The 22 scientists suggest cutting down on products to tackle this huge public health risk. The meeting in Lyon, France, included some of the world leaders on cancer.

It is now proposed that processed meat joins smoking and alcohol as a ‘category 1’ carcinogen, a substance ‘known’ to ‘cause cancer’ in humans with respect to colorectal cancer.  Unprocessed red meat carries a lower, but not unsubstantial risk.  This cancer, often spotted late after it has spread to different organs, carries a high mortality. Although UK death rates have plummeted since the 1970s, this is likely due to better screening and treatment,   and less to do with diet. Over 15,000 people died of the disease in 2014.

Although explanations vary, the mechanism linking processed to bowel cancer appears to be with delaying digestive processes and the generation of chemicals that damage or kill bowel cells. As these cells reproduce, they carry an increased risk of forming mutations that become cancerous. Cell replication, especially at high risks, is a known risk factor for developing new cancers.  

The group also classified an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, a highly lethal variety. Cancer of the pancreas, an organ involved with bodily hormones, is often without symptoms until very late on. It was this from this very illness that the late Apple Founder Steve Jobs passed away.

It is clear that reducing  processed and red meat will reduce your risk. By cutting down on your consumption of processed sausages, burgers, pepperoni and other packaged food you may be going a long way to preventing cancer. Avoiding red meats has other benefits, like reducing risk of heart disease, obesity and other bowel disease.  Key scientists suggest that simply switching from red to white meat or fish where possible, and minimizing intake where you can. Government guidelines suggest aiming for 70g or less.

Although this news will upset meat lovers everywhere, it is important to remember that excessive consumption of things increases health problems. Sugar intake and diabetes, alcohol and liver disease and smoking and lung cancer. By moderating your intake you can plan a healthy preventative approach.

Any opinions above are the author's alone and may not represent those of or the NHS.. Guidance is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of sample surveyed. Online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice.
Dr Ben Janaway is a medical doctor and Editor for the online healthcare and education  source ‘Mind and Medicine’.  He writes regularly for and other national news sources. . Contact Dr Janaway at with stories or for discussion


Bouvard V et al (2015) Carcinogencity of consumption of red and processed meat ‘The Lancet Oncology’  16:16

Zhao Z et al (2016) Association Between Consumption of Red and Processed Meat and Pancreatic Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepalol epub ahop 10.10.16