A recently discussed trend in news and medicine is the association between eating greater levels of red meat and incidence of certain types of cancer. Seeing as meat is typically seared, and the relationship between consuming compounds found in burned food and developing cancer is already well-established, is current research consistent with the possibility that the relationship between eating red meat and cancer is simply due to the burning of the outer layer of the meat?


The IARC classified processed meat as a “definite” cause of cancer, or a Group 1 carcinogen – the same group that includes smoking and alcohol.

The agency made no specific dietary recommendations and said it did not have enough data to define how much processed meat is too dangerous. But it said the risk rises with the amount consumed — each 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18 percent.

Experts have long warned of the dangers of certain chemicals used to cure meat, such as nitrites and nitrates, which the body converts into cancer-causing compounds.

Processed meats are not typically seared as far as I know. Sure, searing does cause problems in that they cause the formation of heterocyclic amines, and the risk seems to be there

What are heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and how are they formed in cooked meats?

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame (1). In laboratory experiments, HCAs and PAHs have been found to be mutagenic—that is, they cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancer.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), sugars, and creatine (a substance found in muscle) react at high temperatures. PAHs are formed when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire, causing flames. These flames contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. PAHs can also be formed during other food preparation processes, such as smoking of meats (1).

HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures. PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes. [2]

but it has been hard to quantify

Population studies have not established a definitive link between HCA and PAH exposure from cooked meats and cancer in humans. One difficulty with conducting such studies is that it can be difficult to determine the exact level of HCA and/or PAH exposure a person gets from cooked meats. Although dietary questionnaires can provide good estimates, they may not capture all the detail about cooking techniques that is necessary to determine HCA and PAH exposure levels. In addition, individual variation in the activity of enzymes that metabolize HCAs and PAHs may result in exposure differences, even among people who ingest (take in) the same amount of these compounds. Also, people may have been exposed to PAHs from other environmental sources, such as pollution and tobacco smoke.

Nevertheless, numerous epidemiologic studies have used detailed questionnaires to examine participants’ meat consumption and meat cooking methods to estimate HCA and PAH exposures. Researchers found that high consumption of well-done, fried, or barbecued meats was associated with increased risks of colorectal (14), pancreatic (15, 16), and prostate (17, 18) cancer. [2]

  1. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/link-red-meat-cancer-need-know/

  2. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cooked-meats-fact-sheet#q1

  • Why not wait until OP edits? / After quick read: this is mainly about meat, but not really addressing the "red" part. / As far as I read OP thhe Q is targeting the recent WHO scare & scandal, that both overstated its evidence as well as did not properly name those culprits for which they had proper statistics. – LаngLаngС Mar 22 '18 at 1:00
  • @LangLangC I think it doesn't matter if there is an edit. – Graham Chiu Mar 22 '18 at 1:53

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