Friday, December 01, 2006

A rasher panic

'Bacon link to bladder cancer risk', says BBC News, reporting on research from Harvard University published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers found that people who ate bacon at least five times a week were 59 per cent more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who never ate it. The study was conducted on data from 136,000 people over the course of 22 years. A similar finding was made for those who ate skinless chicken. The authors suggest that chemicals called nitrosamines, found particularly in processed meats, and heterocyclic amines may be to blame.

This study shouldn't put people off those bacon butties just yet. Bladder cancer is a relatively unusual form of cancer. In the UK, only about four per cent of all cancers diagnosed are bladder cancers, although that still means 10,000 cases per year and 4,800 deaths from the disease.

For starters, the relative risks involved are low. In 1994, the US National Cancer Institute suggested that 'in epidemiologic research, [increases in risk of less than 100 per cent] are considered small and are usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias, or the effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.' The number of deaths involved during the course of the study (a total of 808 cases out of 136,000 people followed over 22 years - little more than 0.5 per cent) also suggests the risks are small.

But even if these risks were accurate, most deaths from bladder cancer are in old people. In fact, age is a far better predictor of ill-health than anything else. So, to avoid a small risk of bladder cancer when we've already had our three-score and ten years, should we forego the pleasure of eating what many people would argue is their favourite food? As is so often the case these days, this sets the extension of life above the enjoyment of life.

Bacon link to bladder cancer risk, BBC News, 29 November 2006

Bladder cancer, Cancer Research UK


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