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Pickled red meat associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer

By Sharon Gray

A new study conducted by researchers in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University shows that pickled red meat consumption is significantly associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The study, published online May 27 in Cancer Causes Control, assessed the association between the intakes of total red meat and pickled red meat and the risk of colorectal cancer in 1,204 residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“In Newfoundland and Labrador, pickled meat can be either homemade or purchased from farmer’s market or supermarkets,” said Dr. Peter Wang, the principal investigator of the study. “While little has been written about the distinct dietary characteristics of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, given the frequency and quantity of pickled meat consumption, Newfoundland and Labrador is probably matched by no other population in the world.”

Dr. Wang said this study has public health implications in terms of identifying important modifiable risk factors of colorectal cancer in the province’s population.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in Canadian men and women, exceeded only by lung cancer and breast cancer. People in Newfoundland and Labrador have the highest rate of colorectal cancer in Canada at 86 per 100,000 compared to a national average of 62 per 100,000.

“It is generally believed that dietary habits are a major contributor to colorectal cancer and are at least responsible for 30 percent of colorectal cancer cases,” said Dr. Wang. “However little is known about how the effects of red meat intake on colorectal cancer vary across populations and the association between pickled meat and colorectal cancer has not been adequately examined. Our study shows a positive association between the consumption of pickled meat and colorectal cancer and demonstrates that the level of consumption of pickled meat has a significant effect.”

Dr. Wang said that two common pickled meats in the provincial diet are trimmed naval beef and cured pork riblets. These meats include sodium nitrite as one of the preserving agents and it has been suggested that nitrite/nitrate compounds can be converted to carcinogenic compounds.

Dr. Wang said that the study, in comparison with the results from a larger study using Ontario data, provides additional evidence that the effects of red meat intake on colorectal cancer may vary from one population to another. “The differences observed between the two provinces suggest that red meat intake is more likely to work with genetic and environmental factors in giving rise to colorectal cancer.”

While the results of the study show a positive association between the consumption of pickled red meat and colorectal cancer, it did not show a positive association between the consumption of red meat and colorectal cancer. “It may be that in Newfoundland and Labrador people consume substantially more red meat from wild animals such as moose and caribou,” commented Dr. Wang.

Because a person’s diet can be modified, Dr. Wang said it is important that dietary risk factors for colorectal cancer are identified so that informed decisions regarding a person’s diet can be made in an effort to minimize the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

This study is part of Josh Squires’ master’s thesis. Mr. Squires is supervised by Drs. Wang, Barbara Roebothan and Sharon Buehler, and is expected to graduate in October 2010.
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