Diet and Cancer Risk
- People across Australia are outraged after the Cancer Council distributed a pamphlet suggesting parents “ditch the ham sandwich,” stating the processed meat could cause cancer.
- Overcooked red meat, processed foods like bacon (and ham), as well as fatty meats have all been associated with an increased cancer risk.
- However, removing these suspected triggers doesn’t always stop cancer from developing — and indulging in them does not necessarily mean a person will get cancer.
The Cancer Council’s Healthy Lunch Box program leaflet encouraging school children to abandon the staple sandwich was recently distributed with school newsletters as part of a campaign to encourage students to eat better and make parents aware that the preservatives in ham are linked to bowel cancer, according to multiple news outlets in Australia.Read More
“The factor in processed meats that is attributed to cancer risk is likely to be something called a nitrate, which is used to preserve meats such as ham (and) bacon,” Clare Hughes, nutrition program manager for Cancer Council NSW, told 7NEWS Australia.
“They’re (the Cancer Council) just following the World Health Organization,” Dr. Ginni Mansberg, a general practitioner and well-known doctor in Australia, added, “who classified all processed meats as a Class 1 carcinogen.”
However, people on both sides seem to be outraged.
Another outrageous front page attack from the Murdoch media on an organisation on the side of public health and science simply speaking the truth. Processed meats aren’t good for you and, yep, research shows they can cause cancer. #auspol #nswpol pic.twitter.com/yyD0Kkehdd
— Cate Faehrmann 🌏🐨 (@greencate) May 2, 2022
It seems most Australians won’t be ditching the sandwich anytime soon. And according a poll that Australian newspaper the Daily Telegraph conducted, about 89% of readers claim to “support” the sandwich.
The Cancer Council may have panned the humble ham sandwich, but Daily Telegraph readers have thrown their support behind the school lunchbox staple. READ MORE: https://t.co/LLaTguTj2p pic.twitter.com/Papep3M4jo
— The Daily Telegraph (@dailytelegraph) May 3, 2022
Diet and Cancer Risk
SurvivorNet experts agree that diet and cancer risks are closely related.
Overcooked red meat, processed foods like bacon (and ham), as well as fatty meats have all been associated with an increased cancer risk. We know this stuff is true from hard science and multiple studies.
However, removing these suspected triggers doesn’t always stop the disease from developing — and indulging in them does not necessarily mean a person will get cancer. There’s a bit more to understanding disease risk than that.
We are exposed to carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer) throughout our daily lives. But many people won’t go on to develop the disease, says Dr. Robert Wright, chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at Mount Sinai.
“We create carcinogens all the time in our foods when we cook them, and very few of us get cancer because our bodies can handle them,” Dr. Wright explained. “But some people have susceptibilities to these environmental carcinogens, which might be genetic or might be caused by combinations of carcinogens.”
It’s important to understand that no one trigger is going to definitively cause cancer, Dr. Wright said, but it could be a combination of triggers in the environment.
“Cancer isn’t caused by one event, typically, it’s usually a series or combination of events,” he added. “So, it may be that you ate a lot of charred food, it may be that you’re also a smoker, it may be that you’ve inherited a genetic susceptibility to be a little bit more sensitive to those chemicals.”
So, are there any foods that can actually decrease the chance of getting cancer? No matter what anyone tells you, as far as we know, there’s no single food that doctors can point to, with absolute certainty, and say it decreases disease risk.
But that doesn’t mean that healthy eating habits aren’t important. A balanced diet is a priority both during and after cancer treatment.
When it comes to dietary advice that applies to everyone, Dr. Wright is pretty straightforward — eat more vegetables and stay active.
“What we haven’t figured out for cancer is, what is the combination of risk factors that end up leading to a particular person getting cancer,” Dr. Wright said during a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “The goal (in the future) is to identify those people who are more susceptible to cancer and to give them counseling and foods that they can eat and other habits like exercise that can reduce their risk. Right now, we’re not really good at predicting that.”
While some cancers do develop from inherited genes, most don’t, so researchers are working on ways to understand how lifestyle factors like diet, exercise and chemical exposures put people at risk. With that in mind, Dr. Wright stressed that eating well and staying active are still important — for all of us.
“In the end, prevention is actually kind of simple,” he said. “It’s what we always know. It’s exercise and eat well. That means eating more vegetables and less meats, particularly red meats.”
Some dietary basics to avoid a higher cancer risk include:
- If you can afford it, buy organic fruits and veggies
- When buying non-organic, make sure to thoroughly wash produce
- Avoid overcooking food
- Try to eat fewer red meats
Contributing: SurvivorNet staff