Richmond Practice - WHO recommendations on processed meat cancer risk

WHO recommendations on processed meat cancer risk

By Dr Sebastian Renz MRCGP DFSRH, Elsbeth's Doctors director

What evidence exists?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) relied on 10 studies, including authoritative Swiss research, involving nearly 500 000 European participants. WHO therefore concluded that processed meat carries the same cancer risk as cigarette smoking, for example, see: European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.

How much processed meat can I eat?

By eating 50 grams a day (i.e. two rashers of bacon) your risk of developing cancer increases by 18%. If you eat more processed meat the risk can increase by nearly 50%. Limit your total meat consumption to 300g – 600 grams per week and do not eat processed meat more than once a week. Concentrate on eating a fibre-rich diet with fresh fruit and vegetables.

What food should I avoid?

All meats that have been salted, cured, fermented or smoked to enhance its flavour or improve preservation. Examples are some dearly held favourites like: ham including parma ham, salami, sausages including bratwurst, bacon, burgers, biltong and jerky. Minced meat can usually be excluded when it is home cooked, without added ingredients for preservation ect.

Consult your doctor, if:

  • you are age 50 and over and if you have a family history of bowel cancer or if there are other pre-disposing risk factors including being overweight, drinking too much alcohol or smoking. Your doctor may agree to refer you for a bowel endoscopy (telescope test of the bowels). Screening (bowel endoscopy) for bowel cancer is recommended by NICE from the age of 55
  • there is blood in your stool, a change in your bowel routine, weight loss, night sweats, anaemia or tiredness
  • you are concerned about your heart disease risk factors also linked to processed meat consumption.

At Elsbeth's Doctors our private GPs recommend health checks to help you quantify any specific risk to you or your family. We use a health questionnaire, blood tests, stress ECG and other investigations to identify specific risk factors. Based on this risk assessment we can then give tailor-make lifestyle advice. You get given a personalised report with recommendations. Our GPs are usually available for same-day appointments Monday to Saturday and we are open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

For more information or to book a health check, call us on 030 0303 5009 or book an appointment .