Meat Free Week: The alarming link between bowel cancer and red meat

Bowel Cancer New Zealand is calling on Kiwis to go meat-free for a week to raise awareness of the link between bowel cancer and eating red meat. 

The Meat Free Week campaign runs from September 24-30 and calls on New Zealanders to consider "how much meat they eat and the impact eating too much meat may have." 

Bowel Cancer New Zealand spokesperson Mary Bradley says she hopes the challenge will educate people, telling Newshub bowel cancer "kills 100 people per month and not a lot of people are aware of it."

Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in New Zealand, according to the Ministry of Health. But it can be treated if it is detected and treated early. 

Symptoms of the disease include changes to your normal pattern of going to the toilet that continues for several weeks, such as diarrhoea or constipation, as well as blood in your bowel. 

Bowel cancer is a cancer in any part of the large bowel (colon or rectum). 

Studies have linked bowel cancer to eating high amounts of red meat. A study by the University of Leeds in April found that those regularly eating red meat compared to a meat-free diet had higher chances of colon cancer.  

Other studies have shown bowel cancer risk increases by 12 percent per 100g of red meat consumed per day, and by 16 percent per 50g of processed meat consumed per day. 

The Cancer Council of New South Wales says eating meat may affect cancer risk because of chemicals formed during digestion that "have been found to damage the cells that line the bowel". 

The World Health Organisation has classified processed meats - including ham, salami, bacon and frankfurts - as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning there is strong evidence that processed meats can cause cancer.

"The consumption of processed meat was associated with small increases in the risk of cancer in the studies reviewed. In those studies, the risk generally increased with the amount of meat consumed," the World Health Organisation says. 

However, the Cancer Council says lean red meat can be an important source of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein. In terms of cancer risk, there is "no reason to cut meat completely from your diet", the council says, but it recommends reducing it from your diet. 

The council recommends eating no more than 700 grams (raw weight) of red meat per week.