Background: Red meat and processed meat have been associated with carcinogenesis at several anatomic sites, but no prospective study has examined meat intake in relation to a range of malignancies. We investigated whether red or processed meat intake increases cancer risk at a variety of sites.
Methods and findings: The National Institutes of Health (NIH)-AARP (formerly the American Association for Retired Persons) Diet and Health Study is a cohort of approximately 500,000 people aged 50-71 y at baseline (1995-1996). Meat intake was estimated from a food frequency questionnaire administered at baseline. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to estimate hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals within quintiles of red and processed meat intake. During up to 8.2 y of follow-up, 53,396 incident cancers were ascertained. Statistically significant elevated risks (ranging from 20% to 60%) were evident for esophageal, colorectal, liver, and lung cancer, comparing individuals in the highest with those in the lowest quintile of red meat intake. Furthermore, individuals in the highest quintile of processed meat intake had a 20% elevated risk for colorectal and a 16% elevated risk for lung cancer.
Conclusions: Both red and processed meat intakes were positively associated with cancers of the colorectum and lung; furthermore, red meat intake was associated with an elevated risk for cancers of the esophagus and liver.