Author: Belinda Lin
Editors: Yanxi Chen and He-Hanson Xuan
Artist: Cici Zhang
Esophageal and gastric cancer are two common and deadly cancers. Esophageal cancer occurs in the middle or upper section of the esophagus, making it highly lethal; gastric cancer occurs where the esophagus meets the stomach, affecting the lining of the stomach. It has long been suggested that the consumption of different meats plays a role in the risk of these two cancers. Herein, we will detail the role of various meats ‒ red meat, processed meat, organ meat, and white meat ‒ on the risk levels of both esophageal and gastric cancers.
Red meat is one of the most common types of meats consumed worldwide, with over 350 million tons eaten annually. Red meat has been researched extensively and discovered to be highly correlated to increases in esophageal cancer risk. From a study cohort of over 500,000 Americans, it was revealed that the top 20% of red meat consumers were 79% more likely to develop esophageal cancer than the bottom 20% of red meat consumers .
Gastric cancer risk has also been shown to be correlated with red meat consumption. In a cohort study of 120,000 U.S adults aged 50-70, participants of low red meat consumption (50g of red meat per week) were half as likely to develop gastric cancer compared to participants who consumed more than 50g of red meat daily. Other studies have additionally produced similar results.
Moreover, processed meat has been linked to an increased risk of digestive type cancers, especially esophageal cancer and gastric cancer. Processed meat is one of the fastest growing products of the meat industry, with the amount of it being consumed doubling in the last 20 years. In a cohort study of 1.1 million Americans, there was an 8% increase in risk of esophageal cancer for participants with minimal (<10g weekly) exposure to processed meat. However, for participants consuming high levels of processed meat (>70g weekly), there was a 62% increase in risk of esophageal cancer over those who consumed less processed meat. Overall, there was a 55% increase in risk of gastric cancer when participants consumed over 70g of processed meat.
Dissimilar to the aforementioned types of meat, white meat has lower associations with esophageal cancers due to its lack of heme iron content. One study even showed a negative association between white meat and risk for esophageal cancer. With 1.2 million American subjects, including 9,000 diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the study discovered that high (>50 grams/day) and medium (30-49 grams/day) intake of white meat was protective against esophageal cancer development. Gastric cancer demonstrated similar trends: around only 1% of the participants consuming white meat were diagnosed with gastric cancer. In fact, the consumption of white meat was linked to a 20% decline in risk of gastric cancer.
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