What Is the Link between Meat and Cancer?

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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 23 January 2020
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There are several factors that are believed to link meat and cancer. They range from the protective and cancer-fighting qualities that meat lacks compared to other foods to characteristics and chemicals which can contribute to the development of cancer. The way that meat is prepared can also increase its carcinogenic properties. There are also some meats that are more likely to contribute to the development of cancer than others, though overall it is best to limit all meat consumption.

One of the major factors of the link between meat and cancer is that it does not possess several qualities that can help the body fight cancer. It has a low fiber content, which means that it can make the digestive system sluggish and ineffective. Meat also lacks the antioxidants that can fight the growth of cancer cells.

There are also several chemical properties in meat which can make it carcinogenic. Some kinds of meat have cancer-causing compounds. The high protein content in meat can be problematic, as it breaks down into ammonia, which can be carcinogenic. Many cuts also have high saturated fat, which can lead to the increased development of the hormones that allow cancer cells to grow.


The way that it is cooked or otherwise prepared can change the chemical properties of meat and increase the link between meat and cancer cell growth. Preservation techniques such as smoking or preserving with salt add an often carcinogenic compound called N-nitroso. Meat can also develop other risky compounds, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines if it is cooked for too long or at extremely high temperatures. Avoiding cooking meat until it is well-done and using lower-heat techniques such as poaching and boiling can reduce the risk of these chemicals developing.

The type of animal eaten can also affect the connection between meat and cancer. Red meats such as pork, beef, and lamb are more likely to be carcinogenic. The chemicals in any kind of processed meat also raise its risk. Better choices include chicken and turkey. Fish and beans are other healthier ways to get sufficient protein.

Meat is most commonly believed to have a strong connection to the development of breast, colon, and prostate cancer. It has also been discovered that kidney and pancreatic cancers are likely connected to meat consumption. While other types of cancer are not as commonly linked to meat, they are a possibility.


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