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The Link Between Processed Meat Consumption and Cancer

Georgi Shopov, Yordan Slavov, Ani Dzakova, Dimana Mitsova, Darina Hristova


Introduction: Processed meat is mainly made from pork or beef meat that has been transformed by salting, fermentation, smoking, curing and other processes in order to improve its flavor or to extend its shelf life. In 2015, processed meat has been classified as carcinogenic to humans - Group 1(same group as tobacco smoking and asbestos). Processed meat contains a lot of fat and heme iron, which can promote carcinogenesis. Processing and cooking can also generate specific heterocyclic amines (HCAs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and N-Nitroso compounds (NOCs) that are actually mutagens and animal carcinogens.

Materials and Methods: The information was obtained from relevant studies and reports published since and before the IARC classified processed meat as carcinogenic to humans. 

Results: A few experimentally tested hypotheses may explain why processed meat consumption is linked to cancer risk. Cooking meat at high temperature leads to the development of carcinogenic HCAs and PAHs. Also, carcinogenic NOCs are found in processed meat and high-fat diets could boost carcinogenesis.  Studies suggest that frying at high temperatures, grilling and roasting lead to the formation of mutagenic and carcinogenic HCAs. NOCs are alkylating agents that can react with the human DNA. Many NOCs are proven to be the reason for the development of cancer in laboratory tested animals. 

Conclusion: In conclusion, the combination of HCAs, PAHs and NOCs and the high amount of animal fats found in processed meat could be the reason for the strong carcinogenic effect it has on humans. It is important for people to reduce the daily consumption of processed meat in order to avoid the risk of colorectal and other types of cancer, because the more processed meat we eat, the higher the risk gets.


processed meat, cancer, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heterocyclic amines, N-nitroso compounds, animal fat


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