After reviewing more than 800 studies from all over the world on the consumption of processed meat or red meat and colon cancer, experts with the International Agency on Research for Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO), found sufficient evidence to conclude that processed meat is a Group 1 carcinogen, a cancer causing agent, in the same classification group as tobacco, asbestos and benzene.

For every 1.7 ounces of processed meat eaten daily (for reference - one slice of bacon is about an ounce) the risk of colon cancer increased by 18%. Red meat consumption fared a little better, earning a ‘probable’ carcinogen classification. Consumption of 3.5 ounces of red meat a day increased risk by 17%.

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Processed meat refers to any meat that has been changed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes that enhance flavor or improve preservation. Processed meats usually contain pork or beef, but can also contain other red meats, poultry, or meat by products. (World Health Organization, 2015)

Processed meats you may eat include:

  • hot dogs
  • ham
  • sausages
  • deli meat/cold cuts
  • corned beef
  • beef jerky
  • canned meat

Bottom line – eating these foods causes colon cancer.

Knowing this, it’s wise to adopt the recommendations of the IARC and eliminate these meats from your diet.  As for red meat, (lamb, veal, beef, pork, mutton, goat, etc.) consumption should be limited to no more than 18 ounces a week. 

It is especially important to make these changes if you also have other risk factors for colon cancer which include:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Age (>50)
  • History of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Ethnicity (African American and most importantly, Ashkenazi Jew)
  • Type 2 diabetes

(American Cancer Society, 2015)

            For more information on:

Colon cancer

Colon cancer risk assessment tool from the National Cancer Institute -

List of other Class 1 carcinogens


Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal health education specialist at Associates for Health, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Associates for Health, LLC offers individual and group health education seminars, individual health behavior change guidance and health consulting for health care professionals. For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her at