Red meat and cold cuts linked to colorectal cancer
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
BY ANGELA STEWART
In the mood for a big, juicy steak? You may not want to make it a habit.
According to a study released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, eating red and processed meats daily over a number of years could increase the risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 30 to 50 percent.
The study, conducted over a 10-year period by the American Cancer Society, adds substantially to previous scientific evidence linking high consumption of red and processed meats to intestinal cancer. With nearly 150,000 adults participating in the research, it is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies on meat consumption ever undertaken.
"This important study is suggesting that we think very carefully about our diet, but it certainly should not be interpreted as a condemnation of red meat consumption as a whole," said Alfred Ashford, chief medical officer for the society's New Jersey and New York office, who admits even he "occasionally" indulges.
Ashford, a medical oncologist, said people should limit their portion size and choose leaner cuts of red meat, in addition to eating more fish, poultry and fruits and vegetables.
"We do make the assumption that if you modify your behavior you will reduce your risk," said Eugenia E. Calle, senior author of the study and the society's national director of analytic epidemiology.
Calle and her co-authors describe "high" consumption of red meat for men as eating at least three ounces daily over 10 years, a portion equal to a large fast-food burger. For a woman, the amount is two ounces per day over the same time period.
High consumption of processed meat for men was described as at least one ounce per day -- equal to a slice of bologna -- five to six days per week. For women, it would be two to three days per week.
Nicholas Scardigno, 50, owner of Scardigno's Prime Meats in Belleville, said he is in "perfect health," noting he eats not only red meat, but fish, as well as vegetables. He said the same goes for his grandmother, who is now 100 years old and his wife's grandmother, who is 106.
"People's health history is based on the foundation. It starts from the moment you are born and is based on how you eat overall during the course of your entire life," Sacrdigno said yesterday as he served up roast beef and other deli sandwiches for lunchtime customers.
His motto in life: Too much of anything can be bad for you, pointing to fast food as the real culprit here.
The study was based on information reported on meat consumption by 148,610 adults ages 50 to 74 residing in 21 states, including New Jersey. The information was provided to researchers in 1982 and again in 1992-93 while the participants were enrolled in a large cancer prevention trial.
It found that participants who were eating the most red meat at both the beginning and end point of the study were 30 percent more likely to develop cancer in the portion of the colon that attaches to the rectum. Those who ate the most processed meat were 50 percent more likely to develop colon cancer at that site. Overall, men in the study tended to eat higher amounts of red meat than women did.
In addition, the study found that long-term high intake of poultry and fish was associated with overall lower risk of colon cancer, but only marginally.
Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, killing nearly 56,000 persons per year.
In New Jersey, roughly 4,770 new cases of colon cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year, resulting in 1,840 deaths.
Robert Schechner, 61, a Morristown businessman, learned through a screening test that he had colon cancer almost five years ago. Although he actually had started cutting back on red meat in the late 1970s, Schechner believes his childhood diet may have played a part in his disease.
"My dear sweet, mom served red meat six nights a week. It was chops or some kind of beef or roast," he said.
"Fortunately, substituting pistachio-encrusted salmon and gingered brown basmati pilaf for roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy is not a culinary sacrifice," wrote Walter Willett, from Harvard's School of Public Health, in an editorial accompanying the study.
Angela Stewart writes about health care. She can be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392-4178.