Eating red meat may boost risk of esophageal cancer, stomach cancer

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Eating lots of red meat may increase risk of esophageal cancer and stomach cancer, a new study published in the Oct 26, 2010 issue of American Journal Gastroenterology suggests.

The study led by Cross A.J. and colleagues of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland showed those whose intake of red meat was in the highest quintile were 79 percent more likely to be diagnosed with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, compared with those whose intake was in the lowest quintile.

The study also found those whose intake of 2-amino-3,4,8-trimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline (DiMeIQx) was in the highest quintile were 44 percent more likely to develop gastric cardia cancer compared with those whose intake was in the lowest quintile.

It should be noted that this is an observational study, meaning that a causal relationship between red meat consumption and elevated risk of esophageal cancer and stomach cancer was not established in the study.

However, heterocyclic amines, which are produced when red meat is cooked at high temperature like in the roasting or grilling process, have already been recognized by the National Toxicology Program as reasonably anticipated human carcinogen since the 11th RoC (2004).

The officially recognized human carcinogens of this type include 2-Amino-3,4-dimethylimidazo [4,5-f]quinoline (MeIQ), 2-Amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo [4,5-f]quinoxaline (MeIQx), and 2-Amino-1-methyl-6- phenylimidazo [4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP), according to the NTP.

The researchers said in their report that red meat and processed meats could boost cancer risk potentially through a few mechanisms involving iron, heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and N-nitriso-compounds and early studies have linked red meat consumption to colorectal cancer.

The current study was meant to examine if there is an association between red meat consumption and other gastrointestinal malignancies like esophageal cancer and stomach cancer.

For the study, Cross et al. followed men and women in a large cohort study for 10 years during which 215 esophageal squamous cell carcinomas, 630 esophageal adenocarcinomas, 454 gastric cardia adenocarcinomas and 501 gastric non-cardia adenocarcinomas were identified.

In addition to the associations already mentioned in the report, the researchers also found those in the highest quintile of 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline (MeIQx), 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP), or heme iron intake were 35 percent, 47 percent or 47 percent more likely to develop esophageal adenocarcinoma respectively, compared with those in the loqest quintile of intake.

However, no associations were found between benzo[a]pyrene, nitrate, and nitrite and elevated risk of esophageal or gastric cancer.

The researchers concluded that "positive associations between red meat intake and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, and between DiMeIQx intake and gastric cardia cancer."

There are two types of stomach cancer including gastric cardia cancer and gastric non-cardia cancer.  Stomach cancer is expected to be diagnosed in 21,000 men and women and it kills about 10,570 in 2010 in the United States.

Early studies have suggested that meat marinated with spices may  produce less cancer-causing heterocyclic amines.

Major risk factors for stomach cancer include Helicobacter pylori infection, stomach inflammation, eating lots of salted smoked or pickled foods, smoking cigarettes, and having a family history of stomach cancer.

Early studies suggest that eating dinner early may help reduce the risk, and also lowering salt intake may help mitigate the cancer-causing effect of Helicobacter pylori infection on stomach cancer.

High iron intake may be aother risk factor for a variety of cancers, according to early studies.  High amounts of iron have been found in certain cancer cells.

By David Liu (photo credit: wikipedia)

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