Can a Sausage a Day Lead To Cancer?

Eating processed meat may put you at almost as much risk of pancreatic cancer as smoking.

Did you know?

More than 2000 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year.

There is a greater risk of dying from it than a car accident.

Now scientists in Sweden have found that eating just 50g of processed meat a day raises the likelihood by 19 per cent.

This is equivalent to a few slices of ham or salami, a hot dog or sausage or two slices of bacon.

Eating 100g a day – a small burger – increases the risk by 38 per cent while 150g a day raises it by 57 per cent.

Consuming more than 150 grams of processed meat a day – that equates to roughly three sausages – puts you at almost as much risk of pancreatic cancer as a smoker.

Smoking increases the risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 70 per cent.

The consumption of red meat –  and in particular processed meat – is also associated with an increased risk of bowel, oesophageal and lung cancer.

Processed meat consumption has also been linked to stomach and prostate cancer.

Processed meat includes ham, bacon, sausages (cheap supermarket brands), salami, prosciutto and corned beef, and the study found even one sausage a day increases your pancreatic cancer risk by a fifth.

Preservative Problems

Clare Hughes, Cancer Council nutrition program manager, says a number of studies have linked processed meat to cancer and the problem is multi-fold.

Processed meats are high in salt and fat. In addition, chemicals such as nitrites are added to many processed meats to maintain their colour and to prevent contamination.

Nitrites can be converted in the stomach to carcinogenic nitrosamines.

In Australia, there are national guidelines set on the type and levels of preservatives used in processed meat.

These are then passed on by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to the various states and territories.

However, according to an FSANZ spokesperson, the monitoring of these practices is up to each state, some of which do so very assiduously and some less so.

How Much is Too Much?

So is there a safe amount of processed meat we can eat?

“Eating 50 grams once a week is probably okay. Eat it daily and you're setting yourself up for trouble,” says Dr Alan Barclay, a spokesman for the Dietitian's Association of Australia.

What is 50 grams of processed meat?

  • One sausage 
  • Two medium slices of ham
  • One hotdog or frankfurter
  • Two medium rashers of bacon
  • A 1cm thick slice of salami
  • Two slices of luncheon meat

A similar study conducted last year found a link between red and processed meats and an 50 per cent increased risk of colorectal cancer, 59% increase in bladder cancer and 38% increase in stomach cancer, so there is some very strong evidence.

Barclay says fruit and veggies have protective factors against cancer and suggests adding lots of salad to your ham sandwich, or eating good-quality sausages with lots of vegies.

However, the best option may be to avoid these foods altogether.

Cook a roast and slice up the leftovers for sandwiches. You don't have to buy cured processed meats.

You're just better off not risking it.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of cancer, with less than five per cent of patients living beyond five years.


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