Newly published U.K. research investigated the potential of a link between eating red meat and a higher risk of developing cancer, finding preliminary indications that women who eat a red meat-free diet may show lower rates of a certain type of colon cancer.
Carried out by an international team of researchers from the University of Leeds and the University of the Basque Country in Spain, the team set out to look at potential effects of red meat, poultry, fish or vegetarian diets on the risk of colon and rectal cancer.
The researchers gathered data from 32,147 women aged 35-69 years in England, Wales and Scotland who were taking part in the the United Kingdom Women’s Cohort Study and followed for an average of 17 years.
After assessing the women’s diet, the researchers looked at four common eating patterns.
Vegetarian was defined in this study as those who consumed red meat poultry, or fish less than once a week; fish eaters were defined as those who consumed fish at least once a week but not poultry or red meat; poultry eaters consumed poultry at least once a week and may eat fish but not red meat; and red meat eaters were defined as those participants who consumed meat at least once a week and may or may not consume poultry and fish.
Red meat included beef, pork, lamb, offal and processed meat.
Although the number of women who developed colon or rectal cancer was small, the team found that those who ate a red meat-free diet appeared to have a slightly smaller risk of developing distal colon cancer — cancer found on the last section of the colon — compared to those who ate red meat. The team noted that a potential protective effect of a red meat free diet, suggested by the results, would need to be probed in continuing investgations in larger studies to confirm any associations.
“Our research is one of the few studies looking at this relationship and while further analysis in a larger study is needed, it could provide valuable information for those with family history of colorectal cancer and those working on prevention,” added lead author Dr. Diego Rada Fernandez de Jauregui.
Previous research has also suggested that a high intake or red and processed meats could increase the risk of cancer. A 2015 report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that analyzed 800 studies from around the world found that processed meat increased the risk of cancer of the colon and rectum and also of the pancreas and prostate.
It is also estimated that around 1 in 5 bowel cancers in the UK are linked to eating red and processed meats.
The results can be found published online in the International Journal for Cancer.