- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

High consumption of red and processed meat over a long period of time is linked to an increased risk for colorectal cancer, a new American Cancer Society (ACS) study has shown.

“Clarifying the role of meat consumption in colorectal carcinogenesis is important. Meat is an integral component of diet in the United States and many other countries in which colorectal cancer is common,” the researchers wrote in a report published in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Although many studies have suggested an association between meat consumption and colorectal cancer, results have varied on the strength of the association, the types of meat and the sex of the subjects.

Researchers at ACS headquarters in Atlanta undertook a study to determine whether long-term high consumption of red and processed meats by people who were cancer-free increased the risk for the disease. Colorectal cancer is the third most prevalent cancer in the United States, according to the ACS.

The study examined the dietary habits — including consumption of red meat, fish and poultry, and processed meats such as bacon, sausage, luncheon meats and hot dogs — among 148,610 healthy adults, ages 50 to 74, in 1992-1993. The researchers followed the group through Aug. 31, 2001, to determine how many subsequently were diagnosed with colon cancer.

As part of their analysis, the researchers also used information about group members’ meat consumption in 1982.

During the study period, 1,667 persons developed colorectal cancer.

“That’s a fairly large number for a prospective study,” in which no one is sick at the start, said Eugenia Calle, director of analytical epidemiology for the ACS and an author of the study.

High consumption of red meat reported in 1992-1993 was associated with a 71 percent higher risk of rectal cancer. High consumption of red meat reported both in 1982 and a decade later also was associated with a 43 percent increase in rectal cancer risk.

People in the highest third of long-term consumption of processed meat in both 1982 and 1992-1993 had a 50 percent higher risk of distal colon cancer, which refers to a section of colon near the rectum.

Likewise, those with the highest ratio of red meat to poultry and fish consumption in both time periods had a 53 percent increased risk of distal colon cancer when compared with those in the lowest third of that group.

The researchers said they found long-term consumption of poultry and fish reduced the risk for both distal and proximal colon cancer, which affects colon tissue more removed from the rectum.

“Our results demonstrate the potential value of examining long-term meat consumption in assessing risk and strengthen evidence that prolonged high consumption of red and processed meat may increase the risk of cancer in the distal portion of the large intestine,” the researchers concluded.

Sharon Miller, director of nutrition programs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, described the study as “very large” and “representative of the American population.”

“But as an epidemiological study, it has limitations,” she said.

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