Well-Done Red Meat Linked to Aggressive Prostate Cancer

November 23, 2011


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By Amanda Gardner

WEDNESDAY, November 23, 2011 (Health.com) — Cardiologists and other doctors already view artery-clogging red meat as a villain, and they now have another reason to urge their patients to steer clear: A new study has found that men have a higher risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer if they consume a lot of ground beef and other red meat—especially if the meat is grilled or well-done.

The men in the study who ate about two servings of hamburger or meat loaf per week were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer as the men who ate none. But most of that increase in risk can be attributed to how the meat was cooked.

When the researchers looked only at the members of the burger-loving group who ate their meat grilled or barbecued, the numbers told a different story: The men who preferred their burgers well-done had double the cancer risk, while those who liked them medium (or rarer) had a negligible increase in risk—just 12%. A similar pattern was seen with grilled or barbecued steak.

“This is another piece of evidence for the notion that red meat, particularly grilled meat, contains carcinogens that may relate to prostate cancer,” says Ronald D. Ennis, MD, director of radiation oncology at St. Luke’s–Roosevelt Hospital Center, in New York City, who was not involved in the study.

When meat is cooked—and charred—at high temperatures over an open flame, a reaction occurs that causes the formation of two chemicals: heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). In animal studies, these chemicals have been shown to cause several types of cancer, including prostate cancer.

Although by now it is well established that red meat increases the risk of heart disease and colorectal cancer, its role in prostate cancer has been less clear. Numerous studies have investigated a possible link between meat consumption and prostate-cancer risk, but the results have been inconsistent.

“This study not only associates red meat with a risk of prostate cancer but it takes it a little bit forward by looking at the method of cooking and the degree of cooking,” says Lee Richstone, MD, an associate professor of surgery and a prostate-cancer specialist at the Smith Institute of Urology, in New Hyde Park, N.Y. “It helps contribute to our understanding of a potential mechanism in the form of [HCAs] and [PAHs].”

Next page: No increase in risk seen with poultry, bacon

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