WHO cancer report: As experts issue warning on processed meat, here are 13 practical ways to reduce your cancer risk

From Monday, processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami will be classified by the WHO as 'carcinogenic to humans', the worst ranking

The World Health Organisation is expected to announce that the cancer threat from bacon and other processed meats is on a par with that of smoking.

The report, to be released on Monday, will be a bombshell for farmers and fast food chains alike and has left many questioning what they knew about carcinogenic – cancer-causing – substances.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has warned for several years that there is "strong evidence" that consuming a lot of red meat can cause bowel cancer.

Nutritionist on red meat

But from Monday, processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami will be classified by the WHO as “carcinogenic to humans", the highest of five possible rankings and shared only with alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes.

Earlier this month, health experts in Australia launched a project to “bust the myth” that everything causes cancer, and came up with a series of practical tips for people to actively reduce their cancer risk. Here’s what they found:

1. Stop smoking. This notoriously hard-to-break habit sees tar build-up in the lungs and DNA alteration and, the experts said, causes 15,558 cancer deaths in Australia a year.

2. Avoid the sun. The melanoma that comes with overexposure to harmful UV rays kills 7,220 people a year in Australia – roughly half those from smoking.

3. A diet that is low in red meat can help to prevent bowel cancer, according to the research - with 30 grams a day recommended for men, and 25 a day recommended for women.

4. Foods high in fibre, meanwhile, can further make for healthier bowels. As Monday’s report will address, processed foods in developed countries cause higher rates of colon cancer than diets in continents such as Africa, which have high bean and pulse intakes.

5. Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day were given as the magic number for a good diet. Overall, diet causes only slightly fewer cancer deaths than sun exposure, at 7,000 a year. 

6. Obesity and being overweight, linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, causes 3,917 deaths by cancer a year on its own.

7. Dying of a cancer caused by infection also comes in highly, linked to 3,421 cancer deaths a year. Infections such as human papilloma virus - which can cause cervical cancer in women - and hepatitis - can be prevented by vaccinations and having regular check-ups. 

8. Cutting back on drinks could reduce the risk of cancers caused by alcohol - such as liver cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer and mouth cancer - that are leading to 3,208 deaths a year.

9. Sitting around and not getting the heart pumping - less than one hour's exercise a day - is directly leading to about 1,800 people having lower immune functions and higher hormone levels, among other factors, that cause cancers.

10. Hormone replacement therapy, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause in women, caused 539 deaths from (mainly breast) cancer in Australia last year. It did, however, prevent 52 cases of colorectal cancers.

11. Insufficient breastfeeding, bizarrely, makes the list. Breastfeeding for 12 months could prevent 235 cancer cases a year, said the research.

12. Oral contraceptives, like the Pill, caused about 105 breast cancers and 52 cervical cancers - but it also prevented about 1,440 ovarian and uterine (womb) cases of cancer last year.

13. Taking aspirin also prevented 232 cases in the Queensland research of colorectal and oesophagal cancers - but as it can also cause strokes, is not yet recommended as a formal treatment against the risk of cancer.

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