What is the role of meat consumption in the etiology of prostate cancer?

Updated: Oct 11, 2019
  • Author: Mark A Moyad, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Epidemiologic studies have suggested a correlation between red-meat intake and prostate cancer. Giovannucci et al reported that men with the highest intake of red meat were 2.64 times as likely to develop prostate cancer as men with the lowest intake. [24, 32]

The association between meat consumption and prostate cancer is particularly strong with meats that are cooked at high temperatures and charred, including processed meats such as sausages, bacon, and hot dogs. Longer cooking times, increased temperature, barbecuing, and frying of such meats produce larger amounts of compounds such as heterocyclic amines and N-nitrosamines. For example, the heterocyclic amine 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP) is found in grilled beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fish, and processed meats. Heterocyclic amines and N-nitrosamines have been added to the list of potential carcinogens by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, Cross et al found that neither the total amount of meat ingested nor the type of meat (ie, red, white) consumed was associated with prostate cancer risk. However, ingestion of more than 10 g daily of very–well-done meat increased the likelihood of disease by 1.4 times over no consumption. Moreover, men who were in the highest quintile for PhIP consumption were 1.2 times more likely to develop prostate cancer. [33]

Like fat consumption, meat consumption may simply be a marker of an overall unhealthy lifestyle in some individuals. Consumption of fried food, which has been suggested to increase the risk for prostate cancer, may be a similar marker of risk. [34] Nevertheless, given the documented link between fried food consumption and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including a recommendation to limit consumption of fried food would seem reasonable advice for a patient seeking to reduce prostate cancer risk.

Meat consumption cannot be construed as an “all or nothing” exercise, however, since the popularity of higher protein and so-called paleo diets has provided another path whereby individuals can lose weight and potentially improve heart health. However, men who currently consume substantial amounts of meat or processed meat and who are gaining weight or are unable to lose weight may find that shifting their diet toward leaner meats or to a plant-based diet could be beneficial.

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