Link between processed meat and colon cancer found, say French health authorities

The French ANSES confirmed that nitrates and nitrites in pork and other processed meat products, such as sausages, increase the risk of colon cancer.

 Pieces of French baguette and sausage are seen in a bistrot in Paris, France, November 16, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER)
Pieces of French baguette and sausage are seen in a bistrot in Paris, France, November 16, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS/BENOIT TESSIER)

French health authorities have found a link between additives found in processed meat and colon cancer. 

The French Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) has confirmed that nitrates and nitrites in pork and other processed meat products, such as sausages, increase the risk of colon cancer, from which approximately 1,500 people die each year in Israel alone.

What are nitrites and nitrates?

Nitrites and nitrates are used in processed meat products to preserve them and give them their pink color. French health authorities said they checked publicly available data and found a link between exposure to nitrates and/or nitrites and the risk of colon cancer.

They added that "the more exposure, the greater the risk of colon cancer."

 Illustrative image of processed meat.  (credit: PXHERE) Illustrative image of processed meat. (credit: PXHERE)

"The more exposure, the greater the risk of colon cancer."

French Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health and Safety

The Food Safety Authority said that over half of exposure to nitrates is related to processed meat due to the nitrite additives used in its preparation and recommended: "To reduce the consumption of the variety of nitrates and nitrites by limiting intentional exposure through food consumption.”

Nitrites and nitrates ingested through food and water form a compound called nitroso. Some of these are carcinogenic and genotoxic (disrupt the genetic information in the cell nucleus and may cause genetic mutations and cancer) in humans.

What do the scientists say?

ANSES analyzed a published scientific cancer study by the European Food Safety Authority and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Their findings confirm a link between the risk of colon cancer and exposure to nitrites and/or nitrates, whether they’re ingested by eating processed meat or drinking water. 

The higher the exposure to these compounds, the greater the risk of colon cancer in the population, the study found. 

"There is also a chance of developing other types of cancer, but based on current data no conclusion can be drawn regarding a causal relationship," the study's authors stated. The agency recommends continuing research in this area to confirm or disprove the connection.