Processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, and sausages, are carcinogenic, and red meat may be as well, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Monday. The findings were published online in The Lancet Oncology.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the WHO, reviewed more than 800 studies that looked at possible links between the consumption of processed or red meat and cancer. The body of research spanned several continents and included different races and diets. Most of the studies focused on associations with colorectal cancer, in particular.

When the 22 international experts were done, the findings prompted them to classify processed meat as a carcinogen along with tobacco, asbestos, and diesel fumes.

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Red meat fared slightly better under the scrutiny, and was classified as a possible carcinogen that entails the same level of cancer risk as glyphosate, the active ingredient in many pesticides.

But the group also noted that red meat has nutritional value. The most powerful links were seen with colorectal cancer, but there were also associations with pancreatic and prostate cancer, according to the IARC.

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“There is sufficient evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of processed meat,” the group concluded in its statement.

“Chance, bias, and confounding could not be ruled out with the same degree of confidence for the data on red meat consumption, since no clear association was seen in several of the high-quality studies,” the group added. “There is limited evidence in human beings for the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat.”


  1. Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, et al. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology. [published online ahead of print October 26, 2015]. DOI: