Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Colorectal Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Eating Meat May Raise Colon Cancer Risk

Study Suggests Eating Less Red Meat and Processed Meat May Cut Chances of Getting Colon Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

May 23, 2011 -- Red meat and processed meat may increase the risk of developing colon cancer, according to a new report from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund.

The report, which builds on the two groups' 2007 Continuous Update Project, points to solid evidence that eating less red meat and avoiding processed meat altogether can slash colon cancer risk.

When this advice is combined with other diet and lifestyle changes -- such as consuming less alcohol, boosting fiber intake, exercising, and maintaining a healthy body weight -- it could prevent 45% of all colon cancer cases, or more than 64,000 cases of colon cancer each year, the report states.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer diagnosed in the U.S., excluding skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

"The good news is that we have some control over our colon cancer risk," says Elisa Bandera, MD, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology, Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Brunswick. Bandera was a member of the expert panel that analyzed all of the available literature on colon cancer risk, diet, exercise, and weight.

Eating less than 18 ounces per week of red meat, such as beef, lamb, or pork, shows very little increase in colon cancer risk, the report states.

People who eat 3.5 ounces or red meat every day (24.5 ounces per week) will have a 17% increased risk of colon cancer compared to someone who eats no red meat, according to the report. People who eat 7 ounces per day (49 ounces per week) will have a 34% increased risk.

People who eat 3.5 ounces of processed meat a day will have a 36% increased risk of developing colon cancer compared with people who avoid all processed meat, according to the report. The more processed meat eaten, the higher your risk for developing colorectal cancer.

Why Meat May Raise Colon Cancer Risk

Exactly how red and/or processed meat increases risk for colon cancer isn't clear, but there are several theories. Some research suggests that chemicals called heterocyclicamines,which are produced when meat is cooked at high temperature, may play a role. Processed meats are made by smoking, curing, salting, and or adding preservatives such as nitrates. The body converts nitrates into nitrosamines, which are known to increase risk of cancer.

Today on WebMD

Colorectal cancer cells
The right diagnosis is the most important factor.
man with a doctor
Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
bladder cancer x-ray
Do you know the warning signs?
Colon vs Rectal Cancer
New Colorectal Treatments
can lack of sleep affect your immune system
Cancer Facts Quiz
Virtual Colonoscopy
Picture of the Colon
Vitamin D