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Red Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Esophageal Cancer Risk


Red and processed meats have been linked to an increase in colorectal cancer and now a possible link has been noted to esophageal and stomach cancers according to a new study by US researchers.

Amanda J. Cross, PhD., from the National Cancer Institute, and colleagues have published their findings in the latest issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

The NCI researchers tracked the health of 494,979 Americans aged between 50 and 71 for a period of ten years. Study participants completed a questionnaire at the onset which included questions on their nutritional habits, how they would typically prepare or cook their meats, smoking habits, exercise and total bodyweight.

High temperature-cooking methods generate heterocyclic amines (HCAs) such as 2-amino-3,4,8-trimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline (DiMelQx). Many HCAs are known carcinogens.

Over the ten years, 215 esophageal squamous cell carcinomas, 630 esophageal adenocarcinomas, 454 gastric cardia adenocarcinomas, and 501 gastric non-cardia adenocarcinomas.

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Red meat intake was positively associated with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (HR for the top versus bottom quintile=1.79). Of the 215, 69 occurred in top fifth of the participants who ate the most red meat while only 28 occurred in the bottom fifth who ate the least meat.

There also appears to be a link between DiMelQx intake and cancer in the area of the stomach close to the esophageal opening (gastric cardia cancer). Individuals in the top fifth who consumed the most DiMeIQx had an increased risk for gastric cardia cancer (HR=1.44). There were 113 gastric cardia cancers in the top fifth compared to 57 among the bottom fifth.

The researchers found no association between benzo[a]pyrene, nitrate, and nitrite with esophageal or gastric cancer.

The researchers stress their study does not prove that red meat triggers esophageal and/or stomach cancers, but their findings add to accumulating evidence of a link.

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"Meat Consumption and Risk of Esophageal and Gastric Cancer in a Large Prospective Study"; Amanda J Cross PhD, Neal D Freedman PhD, Jiansong Ren PhD, Mary H Ward PhD, Albert R Hollenbeck PhD, Arthur Schatzkin MD, DrPH, Rashmi Sinha PhD and Christian C Abnet; Am J Gastroenterol advance online publication 26 October 2010; doi: 10.1038/ajg.2010.415