Associations between red meat and risks for colon and rectal cancer depend on the type of red meat consumed

J Nutr. 2013 Apr;143(4):464-72. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.168799. Epub 2013 Feb 20.


Cancer prevention guidelines recommend limiting intake of red meat and avoiding processed meat; however, few studies have been conducted on the effects of specific red meat subtypes on colon cancer or rectal cancer risk. The study aim was to evaluate associations between intake of red meat and its subtypes, processed meat, fish, and poultry and risk for colon cancer or rectal cancer in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health cohort study. We also evaluated whether fish or poultry should replace red meat intake to prevent colon cancer or rectal cancer. During follow-up (13.4 y), 644 cases of colon cancer and 345 cases of rectal cancer occurred among 53,988 participants. Cox proportional hazards models were used to compute incidence rate ratio (IRRs) and 95% CIs. No associations were found between intake of red meat, processed meat, fish, or poultry and risk for colon cancer or rectal cancer. The risk associated with specific red meat subtypes depended on the animal of origin and cancer subsite; thus, the risk for colon cancer was significantly elevated for higher intake of lamb [IRR(per 5g/d) = 1.07 (95% CI: 1.02-1.13)], whereas the risk for rectal cancer was elevated for higher intake of pork [IRR(per 25g/d) = 1.18 (95% CI: 1.02-1.36)]. Substitution of fish for red meat was associated with a significantly lower risk for colon cancer [IRR(per 25g/d) = 0.89 (95% CI: 0.80-0.99)] but not rectal cancer. Substitution of poultry for red meat did not reduce either risk. This study suggests that the risks for colon cancer and potentially for rectal cancer differ according to the specific red meat subtype consumed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colonic Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Female
  • Fishes
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meat / adverse effects*
  • Meat Products
  • Middle Aged
  • Poultry
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sheep
  • Swine