Red Meat Increases Risk of Liver Cancer

This study examines the relationship between meat consumption and the incidence of liver cancer and chronic liver disease mortality. Nearly 500,000 people were included in this questionnaire-based study, of which 551 had developed chronic liver disease and 338 had developed liver cancer by the end of the study. White meat consumption was inversely related to the incidences of both chronic liver disease and liver cancer, while red meat consumption increased the incidence. Thus it may be said that red meat and saturated fat increased the incidence of liver diseases and cancer.

Cancer of the liver is the third most common cause of death among overall cancer-related mortalities. It has been known that certain toxins, excess alcohol, and hepatitis virus cause liver cancers and chronic liver diseases. However, liver disorders have been reported even in the absence of the above factors. Recently, red meat has been associated with the increasing incidence of liver cancer. Excess saturated fatty acids in the diet are a risk factor of liver cancer and red meat is a rich source of these fatty acids. Not many studies have investigated the consequences of dietary factors leading to liver cancer. Although many studies have investigated white meat and liver cancer risks, the data on red and white meat influencing chronic liver disorders, is incomplete.


  • A total of 495,006 participants, aged between 50-71 years, took a survey in the year 1995-1997. The questionnaire focused on dietary habits and cooking styles.
  • The total incidence of liver cancer was ascertained from state cancer registries and the incidence of chronic liver disease was assessed from the National Death Index Plus records.
  • Further analysis was done by classifying the participants, based on the meat consumed, content of fat intake and risk of cancer or liver disease.


  • Males consumed more red meat than the females and it was more common among the white non-Hispanics. Men were also found to more frequently use alcohol and cigarettes and consume less fruits and vegetables.
  • There were a total of 551 deaths from chronic liver diseases and 338 incidences of liver cancer.
  • White meat consumption was inversely related to chronic liver disease and liver cancer occurrences. But results were opposite with red meat. The hazard ratio for occurrence of chronic liver disease was 0.52 for white meat, whereas it was 4.0 for red meat.
  • The risk of red meat inducing liver diseases and cancer were escalated on including fat intake, especially saturated fats. Nitrates and nitrites were found to increase the incidence of both liver diseases and cancer.

Shortcomings/Next steps
This study failed to consider the incidence of hepatitis in the participants. The diet of the participants was assessed once and a food frequency questionnaire was used, which, being reported by the participants, could have errors. Pre-existing liver diseases and cancers were not assessed in the participants. The authors suggest the inclusion of details on hepatitis virus infection in future studies.

It is clearly shown, in this study, that red meat consumption could increase the incidence of chronic liver diseases and liver cancer. Also, saturated fats are associated with increased incidence of both the above, irrespective of whether present in red meat or white meat. There was no association found between liver cancer and compounds formed while grilling meat. Red meat like beef, pork, lamb and veal could increase the risk of liver cancer. In fact, saturated fats, which form a major portion of red meat, could make it a higher risk element. Thus, it could be better to consume more white meat like chicken, turkey, and fish, which have less saturated fat content.

For More Information:
Association of Meat and Fat Intake with Liver Cancer
Publication Journal: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, August 2010
By Neal D Freedman, PhD; Amanda J Cross,
From the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Maryland

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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