Processed meat and cancer

by Mendi Chen

Written by Casey Dunlop, a health information officer at Cancer Research UK

photo credit: cancerresearchuk.org

Article Summary

Based on information that has come from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), bowel cancer is more prevalent in individuals who self-proclaim to eat the most processed and red meat. Weaker evidence show additional relationship to stomach and pancreatic cancers as well.


Surprisingly, the state of processed meat itself is more harmful than eating. From an analysis done by the World Cancer Research Fund, individuals who eat the most processed meat are at a 17% higher risk of developing bowel cancer, compared to individuals who ate the least. The chemical haem from hemoglobin is broken down to form N-nitroso compounds, which deteriorate the protective lining of the bowel. Cells, in return, must regenerate more often, which leads to more susceptibility to mutations in DNA during additional replication. N-nitroso compounds are more abundant in meats that are processed, grilled, barbecued, or cooked at high temperatures.


The author mentions, with an infographic in the article, that IARC has classified types of meat and cancer correlations. Processed meats in Group 1, which include salami, bacon, and hot dogs definitively causes cancer, and thus deemed most ‘unhealthy’.

Article background and critique

This blog post was written by Casey Dunlop, a contributor to the science website “Cancer Research UK”. Cancer Research UK is a charity in England and Wales . Dunlop is a health information officer (HIO) there that has written several articles for them, all related to lifestyle and cancer. HIOs usually have a bachelor's degree and experience in public health related fields. Dunlop has a masters degree. They are held accountable for the accuracy of information that is delivered to the public so that they can make appropriate lifestyle choices. From reading the article, there seemed to no obvious bias. Dunlop analyzed the data from reliable sources objectively and also had hyperlinks to the research mentioned so that readers could refer to them on their own if need be. Additionally, she mentions that red meat and cancer is on a spectrum; not all meat is terrible for one’s health, nor does it have to be completely eliminated from one’s diet. She is not overgeneralizing meat causing cancer, and admits that other than processed red meat, there is still gray areas where there is probable but not definite cause. I also believe the title of the article is not biased; it does not imply direct correlation either, but rather just the fact that there is one.


The sources she mentions throughout the blog are credible organizations that have extensive research background, such as the World Health Organization and studies done by the National Health Service of the UK. The World Health Organization is monitored by the United Nations, which plays the authoritative role of influencing policy, setting research agendas, and determining standards. Many of her points made are also corroborated by the textbook: The USDA recommends limiting bacon, ground beef, hot dogs, and sausage consumption (DeBruyne, 2014, p. 19), as well as the fact that meat cooked at high temperatures cause carcinogens to form, stating “consumption of well-cooked meats was linked to cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, and prostate” (DeBruyne, 2014, p. 652).


My critique is that given the fact that she is a health professional, her tone can be too informal at times, such as when she says, "But before we move on, let’s be clear: yes, a prolonged high-meat diet isn’t terribly good for you. But a steak, bacon sandwich or sausage bap a few times a week probably isn’t much to worry about." The nonchalant tone almost implies that this health risk is not a grave matter whatsoever. Additionally, even though she works for a legitimate health organization and has a Masters of Public Health from Imperial College, she does not have a dietetics or nutrition degree and not all of her statements could be completely accurate or reliable.

References

DeBruyne, L.K., & Pinna, K. (2014). Nutrition for health and health care (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.


Dunlop, C. (2015, October 26). Processed meat and cancer – what you need to know. Retrieved April 08, 2016, from http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/10/26/processed-meat-and-cancer-what-you-need-to-know/