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Study: One burger a day raises cancer risk

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Just 3 ounces daily of red or processed meat hikes colon cancer rates 35 percent

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


of the Journal Star

PEORIA - Two studies published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association shed new light on the link between diet and cancer, bolstering evidence that red meat may raise colorectal cancer risks but casting doubt on whether produce can stave off breast cancer.

The study linking meat consumption to colon cancer was no surprise to some local doctors.

"I think it's a big hoop-de-doo about stuff we have known for quite some time," said Dr. Norman Estes, professor and chairman of surgery for the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria. "It's been well known that individuals who have a high red meat intake have a higher incidence of cancer."

But what may shock people is how little red and processed meat is considered "high consumption," according to the study by the American Cancer Society.

For red meat, prolonged high consumption was described as at least 3 ounces daily for men and 2 ounces daily for women over a period of 10 years.

For processed meat, high consumption meant at least 1 ounce per day five to six days per week

for men and two to three days per week for women.

Three ounces is about the size of one large, fast-food hamburger. A piece of bologna weighs 1 ounce; two slices of cooked bacon weigh a little more than a half-ounce. Those with high meat intake were about 35 percent more likely to develop lower colon or rectal cancer than those with a low intake.

"We are Midwestern Americans" and like meat, Estes said. "This will be a surprise."

The study is not meant to be a condemnation of red meat, rather a reminder it should be moderated, said Ermilo Barrera, president of the American Cancer Society Illinois Division.

But recent popularity of the meat-heavy Atkins diet hasn't helped people eat a balanced diet, said Dr. Stephen Hippler, who practices internal medicine. But he is hopeful it can help raise public awareness of healthy eating.

"I think what it should do is reemphasize the importance of a well-balanced diet and point out large amounts of any one nutrient, and exclusion of others, might be dangerous," Hippler said.

Locally, the American Cancer Society is promoting its "Active for Life" program, said spokeswoman Kirsten Hermann. The goal of the 10-week program is to encourage people to be more active and change behaviors to improve health.

The meat study bolsters a healthy lifestyle, too. Co-author Dr. Michael Thun, the American Cancer Society's epidemiology chief, said the results should be put into perspective: Smoking, obesity and inactivity are still thought to be more strongly linked with colon cancer than eating lots of red meat.

While a healthy diet may stave off colon cancer, it doesn't appear to ward off breast cancer, according to a European study.

The breast cancer study, involving 285,526 European women, found no protective effect from fruits and vegetables in women followed for five years.

Studies on whether diets rich in fruits and vegetables might protect against various cancers - including breast, colon and stomach - have had mixed results. The results don't rule out that a diet rich in produce might reduce breast cancer risks for certain subgroups of women, including those with a family history of breast cancer.

Regardless, eating fruits and vegetables and limiting red meat intake are good habits for the heart, said Dr. Walter Willett, a Harvard University nutrition expert.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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