WHO classifies Processed Meat Consumption within Group 1 – alongside known carcinogens including asbestos, tobacco, arsenic and alcohol

WHO classifies Processed Meat Consumption within Group 1 – alongside known carcinogens including asbestos, tobacco, arsenic and alcohol

Processed meat (meat cured, smoked or similarly treated to enhance preservation and/or flavour, which includes ham, bacon, frankfurts, salami, and the like) has been classified by the World Health Organisation into the same category of recognised causes of cancer as asbestos, tobacco, arsenic and alcohol.

This doesn't mean that eating processed meat puts you at the same risk of developing cancer as tobacco smoke and asbestos, just that the strength of evidence for cancer causation is comparable.

"Lifetime smoking increases risk of lung cancer 50-fold. But worst case scenarios in relation to processed meat or red meat rarely reach more than two-fold. ... Experts concluded that every 50-gram portion of processed meat daily (that’s two slices of bacon) increases the risk of bowel cancer by 18%.


Red meat ranked lower, in group 2A. It was evaluated as probably carcinogenic to humans, possibly causing bowel cancer. It was also implicated in pancreatic and prostate cancers."

Bernard Stewart, Professor, Paediatrics, Cancer and related disorders, Epidemiology, Biochemistry and Cell Biology , UNSW Australia puts yesterday's WHO announcement into context:


Given our increased risk of developing secondary cancers with CLL, that doesn't mean we should drop processed meat and alcohol from our diet, but perhaps we may decide to reduce our consumption slightly.



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2 Replies

  • I have dropped processed meat from my diet long before I was diagnosed with CLL, thinking why take the chance. I never drank alcohol except for possibly four drinks a year.

    If I did these things now, I would stop within a heartbeat. Who needs any more trouble to come in the door, especially by my own hand.

    My attitude is one my mother taught me: I'm going to be dead a long time, hang on to, and enjoy all the life that you can!


  • Here's another article that puts the risks of developing bowel cancer associated with eating processed meat (and which is behind the WHO classification) into perspective. From the article - "The 18% increase (of developing colorectal cancer - Neil) means the risk of developing bowel cancer is 1.18 times higher for those who eat 50 grams of processed meat per day compared to those who eat none. The figure 1.18 is known as “relative risk”.

    Put this way, the increase is quite small. By contrast, men who smoke cigarettes have about 20 times the risk of developing lung cancer as men who do not smoke. Expressed as a percentage, the increase in risk due to smoking is 1,900%.



    If you only expect to live to 65, your chance of getting bowel cancer is 2.9% if you don’t eat processed meat and 3.4% if you eat 50 grams each day. Of course, if you indulge more, the risk increases, but to similar proportions for each additional 50 grams per day."

    The full article by Dallas English, Professor at University of Melbourne and Research Fellow, Cancer Council Victoria and Terry Slevin, Adjunct Professor, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology at Curtin University, can be found here:


    Professor Terry Slevin is the Education and Research Director Cancer Council WA and Chair Occupational and Environmental Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia.