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Processed meat causes cancer

What you may have heard

Consumption of processed meats can increase the risk of cancer.

What science tells us

Processed meat has been changed through curing, smoking, salting, fermentation, or other processes to help preserve it or enhance flavor. Processed meats are most commonly made of pork or beef, such as bacon, sausage, ham, bologna, hot dogs, and deli meats such as chicken and turkey.

Epidemiological Evidence

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that processed meat is a Group 1 carcinogen, which means that it is carcinogenic (or cancer-causing) to humans, based on evidence for increased risk of colorectal cancer (IARC). Recent studies also suggest a possible role of processed meat in increasing risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer, though more research is needed. It is unknown if there is a safe level for eating processed meat.

Laboratory Evidence/Supporting Evidence

Some animal studies have also shown the presence of colon cancer among rat studies which further supports the epidemiological evidence (Lyon).

IARC Carcinogen Classification: Group 1 (Carcinogenic to humans)

How to reduce your risk

The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that at least 18% of all cancers and about 16% of cancer deaths in the U.S. are related to excess body weight, physical inactivity, and/or poor nutrition (ACS). Healthy eating includes foods that are high in nutrients, in amounts that help get to and stay at a healthy body weight. Limit or avoid red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products. Instead, choose proteins such as fish, poultry, and beans (ACS).

Bottom line

Limit or avoid red and processed meats and replace them with proteins such as fish, poultry, and beans.

American Cancer Society (ACS): Diet guidelines
Cleveland Clinic: Cancer and processed meats
Cancer Council: Processed meat and cancer
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC): Red meat and processed meat


Published: June 1, 2021
Verified/updated: August 22, 2022