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Red meat causes cancer

What you may have heard

High red meat consumption increases the risk of developing cancer.

What science tells us

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that red meat is a group 2A carcinogen, meaning that it has the potential to cause cancer in humans, based on evidence for increased risk of colorectal cancer (IARC).

Epidemiological Evidence

Although results vary, studies from around the world suggest that frequently eating red meat, meaning unprocessed meats from mammals (e.g., beef, veal, pork, lamb, etc.), is linked to an increased risk of cancer, especially colon cancer (ACS). Recent studies also suggest that red meat may increase the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer, though more research is needed.

Laboratory Evidence/ Supportive Evidence

Laboratory and animal studies are generally consistent with epidemiological studies that conclude colon cancer is associated with high consumption of red meat (International Agency for Research on Cancer). 

IARC Carcinogen Classification: Group 2A (Probably carcinogenic to humans)

How to reduce your risk

Healthy eating includes foods that are diverse in nutrients that are eaten in amounts that help a person get to (and stay at) a healthy body weight. To reduce your risk, limit or exclude red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products. As the “safe level” for eating red meat is unknown, choose proteins such as fish, poultry, and beans over red meat, when possible.

Bottom line

Frequently eating red meat has been linked with cancer, including colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. As a precaution, limit or exclude red and processed meats, and choose other proteins such as fish, poultry, and beans.

American Cancer Society (ACS): Diet guidelines
Harvard Health: Red meat and colon cancer
Cleveland Clinic: Red meat
Cancer Council: Red meat
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC): Red Meat and Processed Meat


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