Eating 1.5 Servings of Sausages Per Day Increases the Risk of Colorectal Cancer by 18%!
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer in Hong Kong. It is often linked to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as poor diet, stress, irregular sleep patterns and more. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) under the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, putting it in the same category as smoking, aflatoxin, asbestos and alcohol. This group contains substances that are proven to be carcinogenic to humans by sufficient evidence.
According to research findings, consuming 50g of processed meat daily, which is equivalent to 1.5 servings of sausages, 2 strips of bacon/ham or 3 pieces of luncheon meat, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The WHO estimates that 50,000 and 34,000 cancer deaths are related to the excess consumption of red meat and processed meat, respectively.
Should I cut out processed meat or red meat from my diet?
Although there is a clear link between these foods and colorectal cancer, the WHO does not recommend avoiding them completely as they contain rich proteins, vitamin B, iron and zinc. Considering the nutritional benefits of meat, the WHO suggests weighing the pros and cons of eating meat and consuming it moderately.
Cancer development is influenced by many factors, such as a lack of dietary fibre, over-consumption of processed meat and high-fat foods, lack of exercise, obesity and smoking. To prevent cancer, the WHO recommends eating more fruits and vegetables but less processed meat and red meat. Consuming foods with vitamin C, calcium, chlorophyll, polyphenol and other nutrients has also been shown to reduce the formation of N-nitroso compounds or other carcinogens.
How can I prevent colorectal cancer?
Reducing the risk of colorectal cancer is not that hard – a few changes in your dietary and lifestyle habits will do. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or haven’t received any colonoscopy after the age of 50, you belong to the high-risk group and should seek medical help for related examinations or screenings.
A balanced diet
You should build a balanced diet with more whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables that are rich in fibre, and less red meat and processed meat.
Exercising brings you lots of benefits, like boosting your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health and reducing the risk of cancers. You can build a fitness routine with moderate aerobic exercises or intense exercises depending on your physical fitness level and health condition.
Maintain a healthy body weight and waist circumference
Aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 22.9 and a waist circumference of less than 90 cm (around 36 inches) for men or less than 80 cm (around 32 inches) for women. Reducing fat can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases as well.
Regular colorectal cancer screenings
The Hong Kong government has introduced the Colorectal Cancer Screening Programme that subsidises asymptomatic Hong Kong residents aged between 50 and 75 to receive screening services in the private sector. Participants will first receive a Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) that can detect small amounts of blood in stool that are invisible to the naked eye. If there is blood, a colonoscopy will be arranged to remove potential polyps to prevent their progression into cancer.