Red meat and colorectal cancer: a critical summary of prospective epidemiologic studies

Obes Rev. 2011 May;12(5):e472-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2010.00785.x.


Meat consumption and cancer has been evaluated in hundreds of epidemiologic studies over the past three decades; however, the possible role of this food group on carcinogenesis is equivocal. In this comprehensive review, the currently available epidemiologic prospective studies of red meat intake and colorectal cancer are summarized to provide a greater understanding of any potential relationships. Specifically, salient demographic, methodological and analytical information is synthesized across 35 prospective studies. Collectively, associations between red meat consumption and colorectal cancer are generally weak in magnitude, with most relative risks below 1.50 and not statistically significant, and there is a lack of a clear dose-response trend. Results are variable by anatomic tumour site (colon vs. rectum) and by gender, as the epidemiologic data are not indicative of a positive association among women while most associations are weakly elevated among men. Colinearity between red meat intake and other dietary factors (e.g. Western lifestyle, high intake of refined sugars and alcohol, low intake of fruits, vegetables and fibre) and behavioural factors (e.g. low physical activity, high smoking prevalence, high body mass index) limit the ability to analytically isolate the independent effects of red meat consumption. Because of these factors, the currently available epidemiologic evidence is not sufficient to support an independent positive association between red meat consumption and colorectal cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Diet
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat* / adverse effects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors