Red meat and cancer

Study links red meat to some cancers

April 30, 1996
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From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Before you bite into that big, juicy burger, chew on this for a minute: A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates a possible link between eating red meat and some forms of cancer.

A study of 35,000 older women shows those with diets high in meat and animal fat, especially hamburgers, have doubled the risk for lymph node cancer -- also known as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Researchers believe that eating too much animal fat and protein could contribute to the development of the disease because it overstimulates the immune system.

"We know diets high in saturated fat affect the cells of the immune system and may decrease the ability of the immune system to ward off cancer," said Dr. James Cerhan of the University of Iowa.

It's not clear why eating hamburgers seems to increase the risk. Researchers say it may be related to the way it's cooked.

At the same time, the study suggests that eating a lot of fruit can protect against lymph node cancer.


Although non-Hodgkin's lymphoma accounts for only about 3 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States, its incidence has increased 73 percent in the past two decades.

Researchers are looking at diet as a possible explanation.

"The rise in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the last 25 years is quite striking, and up to this point, we've really not had any good evidence to explain why we are seeing more and more cancer," said Dr. Stephen Minton of Alexandria hospital.

However, another large study conducted by the National Cancer Institute in 1994 showed the opposite of the latest research: There was no link between non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and meat consumption.

Some health experts say more studies are needed before scientists can say there is a strong link between meat, fat and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"I think that this study is consistent with what we already know about diet, which is that excessive consumption of animal fat and animal product consumption -- any excessive consumption of any food -- is not good. But it is no cause for alarm," said David Allison of St. Luke's Roosevelt hospital.

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