Colon cancer and the consumption of red and processed meat: an association that is medium, rare or well done?
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) indicated that red meat is a probable cause of colon cancer, while processed meat was classified as carcinogenic. The 2010 indicators of lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer among South African (SA) males and females was 1:114 and 1:182 respectively, while its prevalence as a newly diagnosed cancer was seventh for males and sixth for females. SA consumers have increased their meat expenditure over the past decade as a result of class mobility. This has resulted in an increase in the proportion of middle-class consumers. Although the consumption of red meat has increased, it has been surpassed by chicken. Due to a lack of national food consumption data regarding processed meat, it is not clear what local consumption trends are. The 2015 Consumer Price Index (CPI) documented a significant urban food price increase for chicken, cheaper cuts of beef and polony. However, when comparing urban food prices, a processed meat like polony is 27% cheaper per kilogram than whole chicken. Hence it is possible that the relative affordability of processed meat could contribute to its consumption among many South Africans (SAs) and in so doing, could contribute to colon cancer risk. In relation to the above, it is important for future SA public health recommendations to take cognisance of the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research recommendations of limiting red meat consumption to less than 500 g/week and avoiding processed meat.
Keywords: colon cancer, colorectal cancer, haem iron, processed meat, red meat