November 6, 2010

Study Links High Red Meat Intake To Cancer

A new study suggests that people who consume large quantities of red meat may have a greater chance of developing certain cancers of the throat and stomach than people who limit their intake of steaks and hamburgers.

Reuters health reported Friday that researchers found only a small number of the 500,000 older U.S. adults studied developed cancers of the esophagus or stomach.  However, the risks were relatively greater among those who ate a lot of red meat.

Study participants in the top 20 percent for red meat intake were 79 percent more likely than those in the bottom 20 percent to develop esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.

The risk of developing a cancer in the upper portion of the stomach near the esophagus was elevated among men and women, with the highest estimated intake coming from one form of heterocyclic amine (HCA).  HCAs are compounds that form when meat is cooked using high-temperature methods like grilling over an open flame.

The researchers said that the findings do not prove that red meat promotes the cancers. 

However, the results add to what has been uncertain about the evidence on the link between red meat and esophageal and stomach cancers.

The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research reviewed research in 2007 that found that red meat and processed meats were associated with a "limited suggestive increased risk" of esophageal cancer.

The report also said there was a similar level of evidence for a link between processed meats and stomach cancer.

Dr. Amanda J. Cross, a researcher at the U.S. National Cancer Institute who led the new study, asked participants to fill out a questionnaire on their diets, including the methods they typically used for cooking meat.

There were 215 study participants that developed esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, including 28 cases among the bottom 20 percent for red-meat intake and 69 cases in the top 20 percent.

There were 454 men and women who were diagnosed with gastric cardia cancer during the study.  There were 57 cases among participants with the lowest red meat intake, and 113 in the group with the highest intake.

Cross said that none of the HCA compounds the researchers studied was related to esophageal squamous cell cancer, even though red-meat intake was.

According to Cross, more studies need to be done in order to see whether the relationship between red meat and the two cancers is real. 

The study was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 21,000 cases of stomach cancer and 16,640 cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed in 2010.


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