“Patients who were originally from Bengal and eastern part of India were mainly red meat-eaters and those from other parts of India were mainly vegetarians. ‘The incidence of colon cancer was 8.22% (298 patients) which is alarmingly high. Ninety-four percent of them consumed red meat whereas only 6% were purely vegetarians. Ninety nine percent of the colon cancer patients were permanent residents of Bengal whereas just 1% was from other parts of the country,’ said Ashish Mukhopadhyay of NSCBCRI” – Prithvijit Mitra
Consumption of processed meat could double the number of colon cancer patients in Kolkata over the next five years, according to a projection based on a study conducted by researchers at NRS Hospital and the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Cancer Research Institute (NSCBCRI). With processed meat consumption growing at a rate 15% in Kolkata the threat is a real one, says the study, that reveals that 8.22% of all cancer patients in Kolkata suffer from colon cancer. Ninety per cent of them consumed red meat which is considered to be a major trigger for the disease. The eastern region has the highest number of colon cancer patients in the country.
The study analyzed 3627 cancer patients—their dietary patterns and family history. Patients who were originally from Bengal and eastern part of India were mainly red meat-eaters and those from other parts of India were mainly vegetarians. “The incidence of colon cancer was 8.22% (298 patients) which is alarmingly high. Ninety-four percent of them consumed red meat whereas only 6% were purely vegetarians. Ninety nine percent of the colon cancer patients were permanent residents of Bengal whereas just 1% was from other parts of the country. Those with colon cancer had a history of red meat intake which was greater than 500 gm/week,” said Ashish Mukhopadhyay of NSCBCRI.
With processed meat consumption on the rise, more could be affected, feared experts. Preservatives like sodium phosphate and nitrate used in processed meat have been proved to be carcinogenic. Chemicals of the benzyne group and nitroso urea also acted as carcinogenic agents and were found even in processed lean meat like chicken. These have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel, so other cells in the bowel lining have to replicate more in order to heal. And it’s this ‘extra’ replication that can increase the chance of errors developing in the cells’ DNA—the first step on the road to cancer.
“But those consuming ham, salami or bacon need to keep a watch on their diet. A daily consumption of 50 gms or more puts you at a risk. In fact, it is more harmful than unprocessed red meat,” said Gautam Mukhopadhyay, oncologist. Red meat boiled has to be boiled at 180 degrees and the heat makes carbon particles break producing hydrocarbons. These accumulate in the intestine and turn carcinogenic over a period of time.
Epidemiological studies shows that there is co-relation of meat consumption and cancer of colorectal region. It has been shown that consumption of 80 gm/day red meat (beef, lamb and pork) or processed meat (ham, salami, bacon) may increase colorectal cancer risk by 25% and 67% respectively. Several biological mechanisms are responsible for this. These include the influence of meat and fat consumption on the production and metabolism of bile salts and bile acids by gut flora.
Incidence of colon cancer is less than 1% in the south and west. Red meat and smoking were the reasons, said Gautam Mukhopadhyay. “Regular consumption of red meat is certainly a cause. But you must consume it in a substantial quantity and over a period of time. In India, the eastern region consumes it more than the rest of the country. This is why we come across more colorectal cancer patients here,” said Mukhopadhyay. Colon cancer is third commonest in eastern part of India. – Times of India, 1 November 2015
» Prithvijit Mitra is a Times of India reporter in Kolkata.