Meat-cancer link no surprise but tobacco still most deadly

The Lexington Herald-Leader on why Kentuckians shouldn’t worry about the possible cancer risk from eating processed meats:

Bacon lovers, relax.

The cancer risk from eating processed meats — including bacon, sausage and hot dogs — is not even close to that of smoking tobacco.

Yes, the World Health Organization on Monday classified processed meats in the same category of carcinogens as tobacco — a category that also includes asbestos, plutonium and sunlight. It classified red meats, such as beef and pork, as probably carcinogenic.

But such findings by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer do not attempt to assess the comparative risks of exposure to recognized and suspected carcinogens.

That’s an important point, as science writers are hastening to explain.

Sarah Zhang in Wired, for example, reports that “smoking increases your relative risk of lung cancer by 2,500 percent; eating two slices of bacon a day increases your relative risk for colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Given the frequency of colorectal cancer, that means your risk of getting colorectal cancer over your life goes from about 5 percent to 6 percent.”

Or as the BBC reported, quoting Cancer Research UK: Twenty-one percent of bowel cancers are caused by processed or red meat, while 86 percent of lung cancers are caused by tobacco.

Also, 19 percent of all cancers are caused by tobacco compared to 3 percent of all cancers attributed to red or processed meat.

The decision to formally classify processed meats as a carcinogen is hardly surprising.

We’ve known about the risk for a long time. We’ve also known that eating a diet rich in plants protects against cancer.

One risk that Kentuckians, who have the nation’s highest smoking rate, should avoid is the temptation to say, “Oh, well, everything causes cancer, so why should I quit smoking?”

Why? Because nothing causes more preventable deaths than tobacco.

Lexington Herald-Leader

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