What’s Wrong with Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, and Bacon?

tongs hold a hot dog in front of a pile of hot dogs

The cancer arm of the World Health Organization has some serious concerns about some of Americans’ favorite foods. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies processed meat as a carcinogen, something that causes cancer. And it classifies red meat as a probable carcinogen, something that probably causes cancer.

Processed meat includes hot dogs, ham, bacon, sausage, and some deli meats. It refers to meat that has been treated in some way to preserve or flavor it. Processes include salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking. Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, and goat.

Twenty-two experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions. They found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That’s the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog. For red meat, there was evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

Overall, the lifetime risk of someone developing colon cancer is 5%. To put the numbers into perspective, the increased risk from eating the amount of processed meat in the study would raise average lifetime risk to almost 6%.

The American Cancer Society has long recommended a diet that limits processed meat and red meat, and that is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention recommend choosing fish, poultry, or beans instead of red meat and processed meat.

Avoiding tobacco, getting to and staying at a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity, and limiting alcohol can also help people lower their risk of getting many types of cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.


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