17 Apr 2019

Even moderate portions of red meat heighten cancer risk, study finds

11:02 am on 17 April 2019

New research has found even moderate amounts of red and processed meat can increase the chances of bowel cancer.

Red meat.

According to the study, even 76 grams of red meat per day can increase the risk of bowel cancer by 20 percent. Photo: 123rf.com

The research, conducted by the University of Auckland and the University of Oxford surveyed half a million UK men and women aged between 40 and 69.

The study Diet and Colorectal Cancer has been published today in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

In the past The World Health Organisation recommended people who eat red or processed meat should moderate their consumption to reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

There were 1268 deaths in New Zealand from bowel cancer in 2016, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in the country.

According to this latest study, just 76 grams of red meat each day can increase the risk of bowel cancer by 20 percent, compared to those who ate 21 grams a day.

This amount is only slightly more than recommended under New Zealand guidelines of 500g a week, or 71g a day.

The study also found alcohol heightened the risk of bowel cancer, while fibre from bread and cereals reduced the risk.

Each bottle of beer or small glass of wine raised bowel cancer risk by eight percent.

People in the highest fifth for fibre intake from bread and breakfast cereals had a 14 percent lower risk of bowel cancer.

Lead author, University of Auckland's Kathryn Bradbury, said previous data was collected from diets in the 1990s.

"This study is really recent it's from the late 2006 to 2010, so that means what people are eating in this study is more relevant to what we're eating today and we're still seeing a higher risk of bowel cancer," she said.

But it doesn't necessarily mean a bacon buttie is completely off limits.

Dr Bradbury said people who ate red and processed meat more than four times a week, had a higher risk than those who had it less than twice a week.

"Anything you can do to cut down how much meat you're eating and how often you're eating it should reduce your risk of bowel cancer," she said.