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New Cancer Report Tries To Scare You Out of Eating Sausage and Bacon

Nevertheless, U.S. cancer rates are stable for women and declining for men.

BaconBeerLengelDreamstimeLengel/Dreamstime"No amount of alcohol, sausage or bacon is safe," declares the Daily Mirror. The article is about the latest cancer prevention dietary guidelines from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), which isn't actually as alarmist as that sentence sounds. The WCRF report estimates that eating the equivalent of two strips of bacon a day would boost your risk of colorectal cancer by 16 percent. Translation: Eating about 38 pounds of bacon a year—or the equivalent weight in sausages and hot dogs—will raise your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer from about 4.5 percent to 5.2 percent for men and from 4.15 percent to 4.8 percent for women.

As far as alcohol goes, the WCRF estimates that drinking 20 grams of ethanol a day (a standard drink contains 14 grams) will increase your risk of colorectal cancer by 7 percent. Three drinks a day raises your risk of liver cancer by 6 percent. A mere 10 grams of alcohol per day increases your risk of esophageal cancer by 41 percent. And for women, drinking as little as 10 grams per day boosts their risk of breast cancer by 9 percent. So these relatively modest rates of tippling (absent other confounding factors) would increase your absolute lifetime risk colorectal cancer from 4.5 to 4.8 percent; liver cancer from 1 to 1.06 percent; esophageal cancer from 0.75 to 1 percent (if you're a man) or from 0.22 to 0.3 percent (if you're a woman); and breast cancer from 12.4 to 13.5 percent.

Meanwhile, a huge 2017 meta-analysis in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology finds significant health benefits from light to moderate drinking. For the purposes of the study, light drinking is defined as fewer than 3 drinks a week, moderate drinking is more than 3 and less than 14 drinks a week for men and less than 7 for women, and heavy drinking is more than 14 a week for men and more than 7 for women. To some extent, there is a trade-off between reduced cardiovascular risks and higher cancer risks. Some drinking may even help people avoid some cancers: Medscape reports of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology study that "light and moderate alcohol intake predicted reduced all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortalities in both men and women."

JACCAlcoholRisksMedscape

For comparison, consider that the risk that persistent cigarette smokers will develop lung during their lifetimes is 1,100 percent greater than the risk that a nonsmoker will.

The WCRF also reports that being tall is a cancer risk. For every extra 2 and half inches over 5 feet and 2 inches in height, the WCRF finds that the risk of prostate cancer increases by 7 percent. My adult height is 6 feet 5 inches, suggesting that my risk of prostate cancer is up 40 percent. This boosts my lifetime risk for prostate cancer from 11 to a bit over 15 percent.

To mitigate these risks, the WCRF recommends: "Eat little, if any, processed meats" and "For cancer prevention, it's best not to drink alcohol." Noting the "people cannot necessarily influence" how tall they grow, the WCRF makes "no global recommendations" regarding cancer risks associated with stature.

As it happens, the National Institutes of Health has just issued its Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, which reports that the incidence of cancer among men has been declining by 2.2 percent per year since 1999. The cancer incidence rate for women has remained flat over that period. Cancer mortality trends are declining for both men and women, due largely to earlier diagnoses and more effective treatments. Cancer mortality for men fell at a rate of 1.8 percent per year; for women, it fell 1.4 percent annually. The five-year cancer survival rate in 1953 was 35 percent, increasing to 49 percent in 1977 and now around 68 percent. Since 1999, colorectal and esophageal cancer rates have been falling while those for liver and breast cancer have been rising a bit. Over the course of their lives, about 1 in 3 Americans will develop cancer and about 1 in 5 will die of the disease. CancerIncidenceNIH2018NIH

The declining overall cancer incidence rates occurred at the same time that per capita U.S. consumption of alcohol was increasing slightly from 2.16 gallons of ethanol in the mid-1990s to 2.33 gallons now. That amounts to slightly less than two daily drinks per person. The WCRF reports that global average annual consumption of alcohol is about 1.7 gallons per person—but just under half of the world's adult population has never consumed alcohol. In addition, pork consumption in the U.S. has remained steady at about 50 pounds per person annually for the past couple of decades. And Americans annually eat an average of 18 pounds of bacon and 70 hot dogs—about 9 pounds—per person.

A study in December concluded that about 42 percent of cancers are attributable to modifiable risk factors. The researchers estimated that cigarette smoking accounts for 19 percent of cancer cases, excess body weight for 7.8 percent, alcohol for 5.6 percent, UV radiation for 4.7 percent, physical inactivity for 2.9 percent, low consumption of fruits and vegetables for 1.9 percent, and HPV infection for 1.8 percent. The researchers attributed just 0.9 and 0.5 percent of cancers to the consumption of processed and red meats respectively.

So if lifestyle and environmental factors are responsible for only about 40 percent of cancers, what causes most cases of the disease? Bad luck, according to a recent study by biostatistician Cristian Tomassetti and oncologist Bert Vogelstein, both of Johns Hopkins University. The research was prompted by the fact that cancer often strikes people who follow all the rules of healthy living—no smoking, a healthy diet, a healthy weight, little or no exposure to known carcinogens—and who have no family history of the disease.

Parsing data on the risk of 17 cancer types in 69 countries, the researchers report "evidence that random, unpredictable DNA copying 'mistakes' account for nearly two-thirds of the mutations that cause cancer." Basically, cancer most often arises in tissues where cells are constantly being replaced, such as colon and skin. The unavoidable proliferation of random genetic copying errors increases the chances that a cell will mutate in ways that turn it cancerous. "These cancers will occur no matter how perfect the environment," says Vogelstein.

Given their relatively low cancer risks, I will continue to enjoy bacon and cocktails. More cautious folks are free to choose otherwise.

The upshot is the longer you live, the more likely it is that intemperate lifestyle choices or sheer bad luck will catch up to you and give you cancer. As Massachusetts Institute of Technology oncologist Robert Weinberg has observed, "If you live long enough, you will get cancer."

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  • Radioactive||

    we're all still gonna die!

  • Billy Bones||

    And I'm going to die with a belly full of beer and bacon, while smoking a fat stogie.

  • Longtobefree||

    I want to die on my ninetieth birthday, shot by a jealous husband as I head out the back door.

  • Liberty Lover||

    You may as well get shot by that jealous husband while heading IN the back door. LOL

  • Juice||

    so much correlation

  • some guy||

    And in these meta studies you always have to remember that about 5% of the correlations are just statistical anomalies. I wonder which 5%...

  • gah87||

    Parsing data on the risk of 17 cancer types in 69 countries, the researchers report "evidence that random, unpredictable DNA copying 'mistakes' account for nearly two-thirds of the mutations that cause cancer."

    "Nearly two-thirds" is roughly one standard deviation. About what one would expect if cancers are purely random.

  • BigT||

    Cosmic rays damage dna; hence, random.

  • Citizen X||

    "No amount of alcohol, sausage or bacon is safe," declares the Daily Mirror.

    You know what's even more unsafe? Trying to stop me from consuming alcohol, sausage, or bacon.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    That's what I call the devil's threesome.

  • Bearded Spock||

    When they start coming for Costco chicken salad it will be "Game On!" for me.

  • some guy||

    Yeah, but not eating any bacon or drinking any beer ever would raise my risk of suicide by like 5000%. So, I'm just going to keep eating bacon and drinking beer, in moderation.

  • some guy||

    Ron, there has to be an even lower resolution version of that NIH graph out there somewhere. I just know it!

  • Bearded Spock||

    Good, it's not just me. I thought my eyes weren't focusing for a second.

  • Longtobefree||

    About that beer - - - - - - - -

  • Johnimo||

    A couple more beers, along with a BLT, using the Parks Whopper tomatoes from my garden, and those charts look perfectly focused to my aging eyes.

  • Hugh Akston||

    "No amount of alcohol, sausage or bacon is safe," declares the Daily Mirror.

    Nothing is safe. Safety is an illusion for people who don't understand the concept of risk.

  • My Dog Bites Better Than Yours||

    I'll be glad when they finally cure cancer and heart disease. Then we all can go back to dying of old age.

  • some guy||

    Dementia is always lurking further down the line if something else doesn't get you first.

  • BYODB||


    Bad luck, according to a recent study by biostatistician Cristian Tomassetti and oncologist Bert Vogelstein, both of Johns Hopkins University. The research was prompted by the fact that cancer often strikes people who follow all the rules of healthy living—no smoking, a healthy diet, a healthy weight, little or no exposure to known carcinogens—and who have no family history of the disease.


    Shall we simply go with random radiation on this one? Those little fucker particles travelling at high speed might accidentally pop through a cell sometimes, after all.


    It seems like for all the talk of cancer researchers, they really have very little idea of what causes cancer.

  • Bearded Spock||

    Any time your cells replicate their DNA there is always a chance a random mutation will occur.

    In effect, simply living can cause cancer.

  • BYODB||

    Sometimes you evolve a little bit, and sometimes you die. Thanks, nature!

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Also viruses. Evidence continues to mount that many cancers are caused by viruses, including endogenous human retroviruses.

    But, it is not so much whether a cell mutates into a cancer cell, but whether your immune system kills it in time before it starts growing. So, stress and sleep are super important. High stress or insufficient sleep suppress the immune system.

    [takes a nap]

  • BYODB||

    I'm fucked then, since I don't sleep and my job isn't even close to stress free. Oh well!

  • Chipper Jones||

    Slow down now. Fucking and/or getting fucked can also lead to cancer and/or immune system deficiency.

  • Bearded Spock||

    Anyone who claims there is "no safe amount" of any substance, be it drug, or pollutant, or food, can be safely ignored.

  • some guy||

    There really is no safe amount of interaction with people like that.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    What is the safe amount of H&R comments one can consume?

  • Bearded Spock||

    Depends on the percentage of comments that are from Hinh and the "I made a jillion bucks working from home" bots.

    Too high a percentage can significantly increase your odds of eye damage from excessive rolling.

  • Longtobefree||

    Depends on your internet connection speed - - - - - -

  • TO in TX||

    You guys make me chuckle out loud sometimes.

  • jph12||

    "Eating about 38 pounds of bacon a year—or the equivalent weight in sausages and hot dogs—will raise your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer from about 4.5 percent to 5.2 percent for men."

    Which translates to less than a 1% reduction in your chance of not getting colorectal cancer. I'll stick with bacon and beer.

  • gphx||

    .7% is less than the margin of error.

  • Johnimo||

    I cook the bacon thoroughly and use paper towels to blot the grease. Then, I slice the onion really thin. I coat each slice of toast with a healthy portion of real mayonnaise before placing the thick slices of Parks Whopper tomoatoes into the mortar-like bed of mayo. Thus, the perfect BTO sandwich is created. Oooh .... it's so good. I'll take my chances.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    When a polio vaccine was discovered, the MARCH OF DIMES promptly repurposed itself to fight Muscular Dystrophy, lest its officers have to cease drawing their nice salaries.

    My Mother despised them for it.

    I have to wonder what the American Cancer Society will do if a cheap, simple cure for cancer is discovered.

  • StackOfCoins||

    It's clear Bailey is in the pocket of Big Cancer.

  • ||

    More like Big Bacon 'n Beer.

  • ||

    lol

  • Iheartskeet||

    Even if it was true, unasked is whether a life without bacon or booze is worth living. I say nay NAY.

    Those extra years are shit anyway.

  • Johnimo||

    Lots of those "extra years" are spent sitting in a wheel chair in the common area of the nursing home, face down with drool dripping from ones mouth. I'm going with the bacon and beer option .... BIG TIME.

  • Benitacanova||

    "but just under half of the world's adult population has never consumed alcohol. "

    Good God! We have to do something!

  • Longtobefree||

    Excellent! More for us!

  • buybuydandavis||

    I love the Adjusted Mortality Risk chart.

    That should be the go to stat for all of these.

    "X percent greater risk of a disease" doesn't tell me anything about the actual magnitude of that increased risk or any tradeoffs with other diseases.

    I personally expect that while bacon may increase colorectal cancer risk, it significantly decreases suicide risk.
    Mmmmmmm. Bacon.

  • buybuydandavis||

    You won't live forever if you don't eat bacon. It will just feel like forever.

  • ProfessorPratFall||

    If you don't eat bacon, you are going to die.

  • Echospinner||

    Best hot dogs.

    Chicago dog. Steamed all beef Vienna on poppyseed bun. Sliced kosher dill pickle, onion, chopped tomato, relish, celery salt, mustard, no ketchup.

    Danger dog. LA street. Grilled or deep fried with bacon wrap. Chili sauce, onion, peppers, many variations.

    Cheese coney. Cincinnati style with chili, chopped onion, cheese, hot sauce optional.

    Polish Boy. Cleveland street. Kielbasa on bun, topped with fries, coleslaw, BBQ sauce.

    New York dog. Straight up with brown mustard, sauerkraut, onions, whatever you want.

    They are not taking our hot dogs away. Never ever never.

  • gphx||

    If sausage increases your risk of prostate cancer you're using them wrong.

  • TangoDelta||

    Are you saying they're goatseing it wrong?

  • Aloysious||

    Everybody needs to eat a good weiner once in a while.

  • John B. Egan||

    The bacon/sausage Cancer connection is hardly new. We've been warned about it for decades.

    By 1978, the U.S. Assistant Agriculture Secretary for Food and Consumer Services ordered a reduction of nitrites in bacon due to a suspected link between the preservatives and cancer. As TIME later explained, that was the year a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that rats who consumed a nitrite-rich diet developed lymphatic cancer at a rate nearly double that of other rats in the study. The meat industry sued to prevent the order from going through, arguing that it would lead to a rash of food-poisoning cases and higher costs.

    Unsurprising the meat business pretty much squashed the story, just as the tobacco industry squashed cigarette-cancer connections, and the coal industry did the same with lung cancer... etc.. etc. Why is this news?

  • TangoDelta||

    For the same reason that certain religions don't eat pork period. Somewhere between trichinosis and cancer there might be a happy medium but why live every once in a while if it could kill you?

  • DN1234||

    Ron, are you aware of any related studies of groups of people for whom alcohol and pork are banned, such as in Kuwait?

  • Lord_at_War||

    "What is best in life?"

    "Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women!"= Conan the Barbarian

    He apparently didn't know about bacon.... :o)

  • BigT||

    Crush your corncobs, see them dripping before you, and taste the fermentations with your drinking!

  • Michael Cox||

    This is epidemiology. According to epidemiology, if I am in Miami, I should be born a young Hispanic, and die an old Jew. Epidemiology is almost entirely worthless.

  • TangoDelta||

    38 pounds of bacon? So that's about 1 2/3 thick cut rashers every single day. Shit, I don't even have breakfast that often. Bonus, I can make it up on the weekends!

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