Expert comment on consumption of bacon and risk of pancreatic cancer

A Swedish review study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, has reported associations between high intakes of bacon and an increased risk of having pancreatic cancer[1]. 

The study brought together data from 11 so-called case control studies which use lifestyle questionnaires to find differences between patients with a particular disease and a control population without the disease. The dietary questions often ask participants to recall types and amounts of food eaten many months in the past.

Commenting on the study, Dr Carrie Ruxton, a nutritionist on the Meat Advisory Panel, said: “I am always cautious about drawing conclusions from these types of studies because they do not properly control for other factors which influence the cancer risk. NHS Choices states that the causes of pancreatic cancer are “not yet fully understood” but may include older age, smoking, blood group and inherited genes[2]. If someone regularly has a bacon roll with a cigarette and a litre of fizzy pop and then develops pancreatic cancer later in life, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what has caused the cancer. We need better controlled studies to do this.

“The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition[3] recommends that people with high intakes of red and processed meats – over 90g a day – consider reducing their intakes to around 70g per day. Nine of out ten women, and six out of ten men, are already eating recommended levels of red meat[4]. The occasional bacon buttie won’t do you any harm, provided it is eaten as part of an overall balanced diet containing lean red meat, which is relatively low in fat, saturated fat and sodium. It is also worth noting that red meat contains a number of potential anti-cancer nutrients, such as folate, selenium and vitamins D and E. “


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[1] Larsson S. Wolk A. (2012) Red and processed meat consumption and risk of pancreatic cancer: meta-analysis of prospective studies. British Journal of Cancer.