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News » Filed under: Cancer Risks/Causes, Pancreatic Cancer

Eating Charred, Well-done Meat May Increase Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Article date: April 22, 2009

By Rebecca Viksnins Snowden

Eating charred, well-done meat on a regular basis may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60%, according to findings from a University of Minnesota study presented this week at the annual American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Previous research has shown that cooking meats at very high temperatures creates chemicals (heterocyclic amines, or HAs) that might increase cancer risk. Heterocyclic amines (HAs) are created by the burning of amino acids and other substances in meats cooked at particularly high temperatures and that are particularly well-done. HAs turn up in grilled and barbecued meat as well as broiled and pan-fried meat.

The link between eating well-done meat and pancreatic cancer risk has been noted before. This study investigates the association on a larger scale.

Researchers, led by Kristin Anderson, PhD, associate professor and cancer epidemiologist with the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health and Masonic Cancer Center, surveyed the eating habits of more than 62,000 people, noting meat intake, preferred cooking methods, and doneness preferences. The study participants were then followed for average of 9 years as part of the PLCO (Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian) screening trial.

Over the 9 year period, the researchers found that people who preferred well-done meat -- whether bacon, sausage, hamburger, or steak – tended to have an increased risk of getting pancreatic cancer.

"We found that those who preferred very well-done steak were almost 60% more likely to get pancreatic cancer as those who ate steak less well-done or did not eat steak," Anderson said. "Furthermore, when we looked at amount of consumption with doneness preferences, we found that those with the highest intake of very well-done meat had a 70% higher risk for pancreatic cancer over those with lowest consumption."

"Our findings in this study are further evidence that turning down the heat when grilling, frying, and barbecuing to avoid excess burning or charring of the meat may be a sensible way for some people to lower their risk for getting pancreatic cancer," she said.

Healthier Grilling

To limit your exposure to potentially cancer-causing HAs, try these healthy barbequing tips:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat and trim any excess fat. Fat dripping onto hot coals causes smoke that contains potential carcinogens. Less fat means less smoke.
  • Line the grill with foil and poke small holes in it so the fat can still drip off, but the amount of smoke coming back onto the meat is lower.
  • Avoid charring meat or eating parts that are especially burned and black – they have the highest concentrations of HAs.
  • Add colorful vegetables and fruit to the grill. Many of the chemicals that are created when meat is grilled are not formed during the grilling of vegetables or fruits, so you can enjoy grilled flavor worry-free. Red, yellow, and green peppers, yellow squash, mushrooms, red onions, and pineapple all grill well and make healthy additions to your plate.

For more information about the link between diet and cancer, see our document, Common Questions About Diet and Cancer.


Citation: "Pancreatic cancer risk: associations with meat-derived carcinogen intake." Presented at the April 18-22, 2009 American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Meeting in Denver, CO. First author: Kristin Anderson, PhD, associate professor and cancer epidemiologist with the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health and Masonic Cancer Center.

Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

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