The consumption of processed meat, including hot dogs, ham, sausages, corned beef, and beef jerky, is carcinogenic to humans, and the consumption of red meat is probably carcinogenic to humans, a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found.

The IARC Working Group evaluated more than 800 studies that assessed associations between the consumption of red meat or processed meat with a variety of cancers in numerous countries and populations.

The Working Group found that each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk for developing colorectal cancer by 18%. Associations between red meat consumption and cancer were mainly observed for colorectal cancer, but also for pancreatic and prostate cancer.

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“For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed,” says Dr. Kurt Straif, Head of the IARC Monographs Programme. “In view of the large number of people who consume processed meat, the global impact on cancer incidence is of public health importance.”

The association between red meat consumption and carcinogenicity is based on strong mechanistic evidence supporting a cancer-causing effect, while the link between processed meat consumption and cancer development is based on sufficient evidence that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer.

”These findings further support current public health recommendations to limit intake of meat,” says Dr. Christopher Wild, Director of IARC.

“At the same time, red meat has nutritional value. Therefore, these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”


1. IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. International Agency for Research on Cancer Web site. October 26, 2015. Accessed October 26, 2015.