According to the World Health Organization processed meats are classified as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans. In other words, there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. The evaluation is usually based on epidemiological studies showing the development of cancer in exposed humans.
Does Bacon Give You Cancer (Are Bacon and Other Processed Meats Carcinogenic?)
Processed meats, like bacon, cause a small increase in the risk of cancer. Processed meat is classified as Group 1 by the IRAC, carcinogenic to humans.
FACT: According to the World Health Organization the strongest, but still limited, evidence for an association with eating red meat is for colorectal cancer. There is also evidence of links with pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
Examples of Processed Meat that Are Shown to be Carcinogenic
Examples of processed meat include hot dogs, bacon, ham, sausage, corned beef, and beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.A video discussing how processed meat causes cancer.
What is the IRAC?
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC) is an internal division of the World Health Organization (WHO).
What Does “Classified as Group 1” Mean?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC) classifies carcinogens by groups. Group 1 is the highest classification and that means all things in group one are shown to be carcinogenic to humans through testing.
Studies have shown that the following increase your risk of cancer:
- Acetaldehyde (from consuming alcoholic beverages)
- Acheson process, occupational exposure associated with
- Acid mists, strong inorganic
- Alcoholic beverages
- Aluminum production
- Areca nut
- Aristolochic acid (and plants containing it)
- Arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds
- Asbestos (all forms) and mineral substances (such as talc or vermiculite) that contain asbestos
- Auramine production
- Benzidine and dyes metabolized to benzidine
- Beryllium and beryllium compounds
- Betel quid, with or without tobacco
- Bis(chloromethyl)ether and chloromethyl methyl ether (technical-grade)
- Cadmium and cadmium compounds
- Chromium (VI) compounds
- Clonorchis Sinensis (infection with), also known as the Chinese liver fluke
- Coal, indoor emissions from household combustion
- Coal gasification
- Coal-tar distillation
- Coal-tar pitch
- Coke production
- Engine exhaust, diesel
- Epstein-Barr virus (infection with)
- Estrogen postmenopausal therapy
- Estrogen-progestogen postmenopausal therapy (combined)
- Estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives (combined) (Note: There is also convincing evidence in humans that these agents confer a protective effect against cancer in the endometrium and ovary)
- Ethanol in alcoholic beverages
- Ethylene oxide
- Etoposide in combination with cisplatin and bleomycin
- Fission products, including strontium-90
- Fluoro-edenite fibrous amphibole
- Haematite mining (underground)
- Helicobacter pylori (infection with)
- Hepatitis B virus (chronic infection with)
- Hepatitis C virus (chronic infection with)
- Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) (infection with)
- Human papilloma virus (HPV) types 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59 (infection with) (Note: The HPV types that have been classified as carcinogenic to humans can differ by an order of magnitude in risk for cervical cancer)
- Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-1) (infection with)
- Ionizing radiation (all types)
- Iron and steel founding (workplace exposure)
- Isopropyl alcohol manufacture using strong acids
- Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV), also known as human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) (infection with)
- Leather dust
- Magenta production
- Methoxsalen (8-methoxypsoralen) plus ultraviolet A radiation, also known as PUVA
- 4,4′-Methylenebis(chloroaniline) (MOCA)
- Mineral oils, untreated or mildly treated
- MOPP and other combined chemotherapy including alkylating agents
- Neutron radiation
- Nickel compounds
- N’-Nitrosonornicotine (NNN) and 4-(N-Nitrosomethylamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK)
- Opisthorchis viverrini (infection with), also known as the Southeast Asian liver fluke
- Outdoor air pollution (and the particulate matter in it)
- Painter (workplace exposure as a)
- 3,4,5,3′,4′-Pentachlorobiphenyl (PCB-126)
- Phenacetin (and mixtures containing it)
- Phosphorus-32, as phosphate
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin-like, with a Toxicity Equivalency Factor according to WHO (PCBs 77, 81, 105, 114, 118, 123, 126, 156, 157, 167, 169, 189)
- Processed meat (consumption of)
- Radioiodines, including iodine-131
- Radionuclides, alpha-particle-emitting, internally deposited (Note: Specific radionuclides for which there is sufficient evidence for carcinogenicity to humans are also listed individually as Group 1 agents)
- Radionuclides, beta-particle-emitting, internally deposited (Note: Specific radionuclides for which there is sufficient evidence for carcinogenicity to humans are also listed individually as Group 1 agents)
- Radium-224 and its decay products
- Radium-226 and its decay products
- Radium-228 and its decay products
- Radon-222 and its decay products
- Rubber manufacturing industry
- Salted fish (Chinese-style)
- Schistosoma haematobium (infection with)
- Semustine (methyl-CCNU)
- Shale oils
- Silica dust, crystalline, in the form of quartz or cristobalite
- Solar radiation
- Soot (as found in workplace exposure of chimney sweeps)
- Sulfur mustard
- Tamoxifen (Note: There is also conclusive evidence that tamoxifen reduces the risk of contralateral breast cancer in breast cancer patients)
- Thorium-232 and its decay products
- Tobacco, smokeless
- Tobacco smoke, secondhand
- Tobacco smoking
- Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, including UVA, UVB, and UVC rays
- Ultraviolet-emitting tanning devices
- Vinyl chloride
- Wood dust
- X- and Gamma-radiation
So Are All Group 1 Carcinogens Created Equal?
Although that it’s true that processed meats cause cancer, processed meats aren’t comparable to other group 1 carcinogens due to the way meat is ingested and the frequency in which it is ingested.
You’ll notice that the sun, smoking, drinking, salted fish, rubbing radium on your face, painting, or being a chimney sweep all increase the risk of cancer. Every carcinogen is different and can cause cancer at different rates.
Remember, the above is only Group 1. There is also Group 2A, 2B, 3, and 4. Group 1 is shown to cause cancer, 2A likely causes it (2A contains red meat), 2B is a chemical mixture that likely causes cancer, and the other groups likely don’t.
TIP: Processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.
What is Processed Meat?
It is important to understand the nature of processed meat. Processed meat is mammalian muscle meat, including, beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat that has been undergone chemical treatment.
Processing meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. Processed meat can also include fat, offal, meat by-products, blood, and generally anything related to an animal.
What is a Carcinogen?
A carcinogen is any substance or exposure that can cause cancer.
Bacon Gives You Cancer? 🙁
Science shows Bacon gives you cancer; the sun, drinking, smoking tobacco, and getting x-rays all increase your cancer risk.
Red Meat and High-Temperature Cooking
It should be noted that in general red meat and high-temperature cooking are also thought to be carcinogenic. Red meat is classified as Group 2A and although the verdict isn’t out on high-temperature cooking we can use a little logic to tell us that burning a piece of bacon will only raise the level of carcinogens.
According to the WHO: Cooking at high temperatures or with the food in direct contact with a flame or a hot surface, as in barbecuing or pan-frying, produces more of certain types of carcinogenic chemicals (such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic aromatic amines).
What is the Actual Science Here?
The IARC Working Group conducted studies on processed meat and red meat at the recommendation of an international advisory committee associated with the World Health Organization. They met in 2014 and suggested studies be done based on epidemiological studies, which suggested that small increases in the risk of several cancers may be associated with high consumption of red meat or processed meat. Evidence from that set of studies led to the recommendation for further studies.
How High is the Risk?
To close, the risk from processed meats is probably greater than red meats, but the risk from either one pales in comparison to other Group 1 carcinogens. There is no scientific data that suggests you stop eating all processed meats, however, we may want to rethink the frequency of red meat and processed meat in our diet.
- “Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat“. Who.int. Retrieved Jan 4, 2016.
- “Known human carcinogens“. Cancer.org. Retrieved Jan 4, 2016.
- “Bad Day For Bacon: Processed Meats Cause Cancer, WHO Says“. Npr.org. Retrieved Jan 4, 2016.