Foods That Cause Cancer

Cancer-causing foods should be limited or avoided

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), came out with a report on cancer-causing processed meats, stating that such meats definitely can cause colorectal cancer. They have also stated that red meat in general “probably” causes cancers such as colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

Given that obesity is a risk factor for a number of different cancers, it is helpful to do all you can to decrease your risk. When you stop eating processed meats, you cut down on potentially cancer-causing compounds as well as reduce your intake of saturated fat.

Below are five cancer-causing foods to avoid, based on the report.

Hot Dogs

hot dogs
James Ross/Getty Images

According to the IARC press release, “Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.”

Hot dogs are listed as one example of processed meat that can cause cancer. Specifically, the IARC classified processed meat as “carcinogenic [cancer-causing] to humans, based on sufficient evidence in humans that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

According to the IARC, a little over the equivalent of one hot dog per day is enough to increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Beef Jerky

Beef jerky
Juanmonino/iStock/Getty Images

Beef jerky also falls into the processed meat group and was listed as a specific example in the IARC press release as a food that can cause cancer.

The IARC press release regarding the recent findings stated that IARC experts “considered more than 800 studies that investigated associations of more than a dozen types of cancer with the consumption of red meat or processed meat in many countries and populations with diverse diets.”

The IARC Working Group found that “the most influential evidence came from large prospective cohort studies conducted over the past 20 years.”


Nuremberger sausage
dm909/Moment/Getty Images

Sausage is another kind of processed meat that was given as an example in the IARC press release as being cancer-causing.

The IARC has stated that “each 50 gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.”

The IARC further noted that “the consumption of meat varies greatly between countries, with from a few percent up to 100% of people eating red meat, depending on the country, and somewhat lower proportions eating processed meat.”


Carved glazed ham
Cultura RM/Diana Miller/Getty Images

Ham is a processed meat that is not only carcinogenic due to its processed nature but has also been linked to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases because of its very high sodium content.

Other processed deli meats, such as pastrami, salami, pepperoni, and the like, present the same cancer-causing risk.

Corned Beef

A tasty sandwich
Tetra Images/Getty Images

Corned beef was also one of the examples listed by the IARC as a processed meat linked to colorectal cancer.

The IARC further noted that “most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry … or meat byproducts such as blood.”

Other examples of processed meat listed in the IARC press release included canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do eggs cause cancer?

    Some studies have found that eating five eggs a week may increase the risk of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer. However, more studies are needed to confirm this.

  • Can chicken cause cancer?

    A 2019 study found a link between eating poultry and a higher risk of prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In contrast, a same-year study found that poultry consumption reduced the risk of invasive breast cancer. More research is needed.

  • Does a vegan diet reduce cancer risk?

    The risk of getting cancer may be lower in vegans than meat eaters. One study showed that total cancer incidence was 19% lower in vegans compared with meat eaters.

  • What foods can prevent cancer?

    You can help reduce your risk of cancer by eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes (beans and lentils).

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat.

  2. Rohrmann S, Linseisen J. Processed meat: the real villain?Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2015;75(3):233-241. doi:10.1017/s0029665115004255

  3. Keum N, Lee D, Marchand N et al. Egg intake and cancers of the breast, ovary and prostate: a dose–response meta-analysis of prospective observational studies. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015;114(7):1099-1107. doi:10.1017/s0007114515002135

  4. Knuppel A, Papier K, Appleby P, Key T, Perez-Cornago A. OP31 Meat intake and cancer risk: prospective analyses in UK biobank. Oral Presentations. 2019. doi:10.1136/jech-2019-ssmabstracts.31

  5. Lo J, Park Y, Sinha R, Sandler D. Association between meat consumption and risk of breast cancer: Findings from the Sister Study. Int J Cancer. 2019;146(8):2156-2165. doi:10.1002/ijc.32547

  6. Key T, Appleby P, Crowe F, Bradbury K, Schmidt J, Travis R. Cancer in British vegetarians: updated analyses of 4998 incident cancers in a cohort of 32,491 meat eaters, 8612 fish eaters, 18,298 vegetarians, and 2246 vegans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(suppl_1):378S-385S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.071266

  7. Harvard T.H. Chan. School of Public Health. Preventing cancer.

Additional Reading

By Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI
Yasmine Ali, MD, is board-certified in cardiology. She is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and an award-winning physician writer.