Background The latest meta-analysis from the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research concluded that red meat was a probable cause and processed meat a convincing cause of colorectal cancer. However, evidence for associations between red and processed meat intake and other cancer sites is limited. Furthermore, few studies have examined the association between poultry intake and cancer risk. Therefore, the aim of this study was to examine the associations between red, processed meat and poultry intake and incidence for 20 common cancer sites.
Methods We analysed data from 475,488 participants (54% women) in UK Biobank. Participants were aged 37–73 years and cancer free at baseline. Cancer diagnosis and death due to cancer during follow-up were determined using data-linkage with cancer and death registries (with follow-up until 30 November 2014 for England and Wales and until 31 December 2014 for Scotland, respectively). Information on meat consumption was based on a touchscreen questionnaire completed at baseline covering type and frequency of meat intake. We used multivariable-adjusted Cox proportional hazards models to determine the association between baseline meat intake and cancer incidence. Analyses of lung cancer risk were restricted to never smokers. All analyses were adjusted for socio-demographic, lifestyle and women-specific factors.
Results Over a mean 5.7 (SD 1.1) years of follow-up 23,117 participants were diagnosed with any type of malignant cancer. Red meat intake was positively associated with colorectal cancer (Hazard ratio (HR) per 50 g/day increment in intake 1.20, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 1.02–1.41), breast cancer (1.13, 1.01–1.27) and prostate cancer (1.14, 1.00–1.29). Processed meat intake was positively associated with risk for colorectal cancer (HR per 20 g/day increment in intake 1.16, 95% CI 1.04–1.30). Poultry intake was positively associated with risk for malignant melanoma (HR per 30 g/day increment in intake 1.20, 95% CI 1.00–1.44), prostate cancer (1.11, 1.02–1.22) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (1.26, 1.03–1.55).
Discussion Higher intakes of red and processed meat were associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Red meat consumption was also positively associated with risk of breast and prostate cancer, but these associations are not supported by most previous prospective studies and may be affected by residual confounding. The positive associations of poultry intake with prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma require further investigation.
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