Red meat from the BBQ can cause kidney cancer, colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, or prostate cancer not because of the red meat itself but how it is prepared. The link between cancer and food preparation — and where it is prepared — might be more useful for consumers than trying to blame cancer on any specific meat.
As reported by the Washington Post on November 9, BBQ’d red meat can cause kidney cancer and other cancers due to “meat-cooking mutagens that are created when meat is cooked at high temperatures or over an open flame — which includes barbecuing or pan-frying. Previous work has shown that these techniques result in the formation of two carcinogens: 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenyl-imidazo(4,5-b) pyridine (PhIP) and amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo(4,5-f) quinoxaline (MeIQx). The study shows a 54 percent increased risk associated with PhIP intake and a nearly 200 percent increase with MeIQx intake.”
So, charring red meat during a BBQ might be a crispy experience but not a healthy one. But what about charring other foods like veggie hot dogs, those salmon burgers, or even marshmallows?
The news that red meat from the BBQ is linked to kidney cancer comes from a recent study published by Dr. Xifeng Wu and colleagues at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The study included 659 patients who were just diagnosed with kidney cancer. By comparing the patients with a control group, the study found that the affected people ate more grilled meat — red meat and chicken alike.
However, the study linking BBQ’d red meat and kidney cancer also found that the affected patients ate fewer fruits and vegetables than people who didn’t have it. The study also showed that patients with two genetic mutations (that already put them at higher risk of kidney cancer) were most affected.
The link between kidney cancer and BBQ’d red meat is therefore not as simple as it may sound. The four major factors that should come into consideration are how the red meat is prepared, what else is being eaten with the red meat, where it is being eaten, and who eats it.
If I eat charred red meat from a BBQ, pesticide-treated vegetables, and an overly processed potato salad in the smog-filled skies of Los Angeles, will I get kidney, colorectal, pancreatic, or prostate cancer? October’s WHO report on the cancer link between red meat and processed food pointed out that about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat, about 1,000,000 cancer deaths per year are globally due to tobacco smoking, 600,000 deaths per year are due to alcohol consumption, and more than 200,000 per year are due to air pollution.