Tricounty News

U of M study shows eating burned meat increases risk of pancreatic cancer

People who regularly eat very well-done red meat that is burned or charred may increase their risk of pancreatic cancer by almost 60 percent, according to a study by a University of Minnesota cancer researcher.

Kristin Anderson, Ph.D., associate professor and cancer epidemiologist with the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health and Masonic Cancer Center, led the research team on this study. She presented the findings Tuesday at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research in Denver.

"I've focused my research on pancreatic cancer for some time to identify ways to prevent this cancer because treatments are very limited and the cancer is often rapidly fatal," Anderson said. "Our findings in this study are further evidence that turning down the heat when grilling, frying, and barbecuing to avoid excess burning or charring of the meat may be a sensible way for some people to lower their risk for getting pancreatic cancer."

In previous research, Anderson found an association between pancreatic cancer and cancer-causing compounds (heterocyclic amines and benzo(a)pyrene) that form on the surface of red meat, such as steak, during high-heat cooking; the levels of the carcinogens depend on the cooking temperature and the degree of doneness. In that research, both sick and healthy participants reported on their past diet.

This new study was a prospective analysis in which disease-free participants reported on their typical diet, and then they were followed to track their health status. Anderson and her colleagues used information participants enrolled in the National Cancer Institute - sponsored PLCO (prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian) Screening Trial provided about their meat consumption, preferred cooking methods and doneness preferences.

Over a nine-year period, Anderson and her colleagues identified 208 cases of pancreatic cancer.

"We found that those who preferred very well-done steak were almost 60 percent more likely to get pancreatic cancer as those who ate steak less well-done or did not eat steak," Anderson said. "Furthermore, when we looked at amount of consumption with doneness preferences, we found that those with the highest intake of very well-done meat had a 70 percent higher risk for pancreatic cancer over those with lowest consumption."

In addition to turning down the heat, Anderson offers these suggestions:

- Cut away parts of red meat that are burned or charred

- Before grilling, microwave meat for a few minutes and pour off the juices, which contain many of the precursors of the cancer-causing compounds

- When grilling, do not let flames lap at the meat; wrap meat in foil to protect it from the direct flame

- Cook meat in water or another liquid to prevent meat from getting too hot.