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Am Fam Physician. 2023;107(4):424-425

Author disclosure: No relevant financial relationships.

Clinical Question

Does the consumption of red and processed meats increase the risk of cancer?

Evidence-Based Answer

Patients should consume less red and processed meat. Higher meat consumption increases the risk of breast, colorectal, colon, rectal, and lung cancers. (Strength of Recommendation [SOR]: A, meta-analysis of cohort, case-control, and randomized controlled trials.)

Evidence Summary

A 2021 meta-analysis evaluated 148 articles (128 cohort, 11 case-control, and nine randomized controlled trials) with more than 17 million patients that evaluated the association between the consumption of red and processed meats and the incidence of cancers after four to 27 years of follow-up.1 Patient demographics were not reported. The study included the following cancer types: breast, ovarian, endometrial, prostate, colorectal, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, lung, bladder, renal cell, hepatocellular carcinoma, leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma, and glioma. The primary outcome assessed the incidence of cancer by comparing the highest vs. lowest consumption of red meat, processed meat, and combined red and processed meat, and the risk of cancer per 100 g per day of red, 50 g per day of processed, and 100 g per day of combined red and processed.

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Help Desk Answers provides answers to questions submitted by practicing family physicians to the Family Physicians Inquiries Network (FPIN). Members of the network select questions based on their relevance to family medicine. Answers are drawn from an approved set of evidence-based resources and undergo peer review. The strength of recommendations and the level of evidence for individual studies are rated using criteria developed by the Evidence-Based Medicine Working Group (

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This series is coordinated by John E. Delzell Jr., MD, MSPH, associate medical editor.

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