Study Suggests Link Between Beef, Cancer

A Bengaluru doc and his research team analysed cases of colon and rectal cancer in Kerala

Published: 07th November 2015 04:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th November 2015 04:44 AM   |  A+A-

QUEEN’S ROAD: A study by a team of doctors found worrying aspects to a diet rich in beef and tapioca.

However, it found that men who ate beef regularly had a 30 per cent lower risk of colon cancer than women with a similar dietary habit.

“Women could be more genetically inclined to the disease, though nothing can be conclusively said at this time as more research needs to done. Sometimes, all the factors influencing the findings are not apparent,” said Dr Sandeep Nayak, now working at the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology in Bengaluru.

During a three-year stint at the Medical College Hospital, Malappuram, Nayak collaborated with senior doctors M P Sasi, M P Sreejayan and Syamsundar Mandal to study diet and colon and rectal cancers.

Dr Sandeep Naik.jpgAnother study by Nayak documented methods used worldwide for laparoscopic surgery in such cancers. “Though unrelated to diet, it was found that women in their 40s are more prone to rectal cancers, 10 years earlier than men, who are susceptible only in their 50s,” he told City Express.

His findings come in the wake of the WHO’s recommendations against processed meat, and indicate that consumption of beef more than once a week increases the risk of colon cancer four to six times.

The study states that cooked meat increases HCA (chemical compounds formed in charred meat) and that beef, irrespective of the HCA level, promotes cancer and increases bile acid in the gut.

In Kerala, beef is eaten in a curry, and not barbecued. But even small amounts of the meat could lead to colorectal carcinoma or colon cancer, the study cautions. “The dry heat produced during barbeques is detrimental. In fact kebabs are bad for health and should be avoided. The darker the colour, the worse it is for health,” Nayak said.


A research wing of WHO, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, was asked to study the effects of red meat consumption. A panel with experts from 10 countries reviewed 800 studies worldwide. They found that 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide were attributed to a diet high in processed meat. From the analysis of data of ten studies, it was estimated that every 50 gram of meat could increase colorectal cancer by 18 per cent if eaten every day.

In another interesting finding, the study says tapioca, a root eaten as staple in Kerala, increases the risk of cancer by 4 per cent. Tapioca needs to be processed to remove toxins. Boiled tapioca is eaten regularly in Kerala and has previously been linked to pancreatic ailments. Some properties of tapioca have a direct link to bowel mucosa, a condition where the rectal area becomes irritable, the study observes.

Eating pungent spices, such as chilli and pepper, shows a strong association with colon cancer. “Capsaicin, a chemical component found in chilli, is an irritant and activates a mechanism that eventually leads to colon cancer.

Spicy food if eaten regularly can also lead to stomach cancer by causing irritation,” he said.

His team analysed

food patterns of 108 people diagnosed with colon cancer and 324 admitted for conditions unrelated to dietary modifications from April 2003 to Feb 2006. The team’s objective was to understand the implications of diet on colorectal carcinoma, the scientific term for colon cancer.

City docs not so sure

Dr U D Bafna, gynaec-oncologist, is sceptical about the meat-cancer link. “The choice is individual. The increase or decrease in intake cannot be predicted. It is hard to say if it was caused by consumption of processed meats alone. More than anything, lifestyle habits are responsible for 70 per cent of cancers and that’s where the alterations needs to be made,” he told City Express.

An oncologist from a government hospital who requested anonymity said, “Generally, it’s difficult to prove. It depends on consumption over a prolonged period and not with what a patient has eaten over the past few days or months.”

(Inputs by Manjusha Naik)

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