Meat intake and cancer risk: prospective analyses in UK Biobank

Meat intake and cancer risk: prospective analyses in UK Biobank 

Anika Knuppel, Keren Papier, Georgina K Fensom, Paul N Appleby, Julie A Schmidt, Tammy Y N Tong, Ruth C Travis, Timothy J Key, Aurora Perez-Cornago

Cancer Epidemiology Unit, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford

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Red and processed meat have been consistently associated with colorectal cancer risk, but evidence for other cancer sites and for poultry intake is limited. We therefore examined associations between total, red and processed meat and poultry intake and incidence for 20 common cancers.


We analyzed data from 474 996 participants (54% women) in UK Biobank. Participants were aged 37–73 years and cancer-free at baseline (2006–10). Multivariable-adjusted Cox proportional hazards models were used to determine associations between baseline meat intake and cancer incidence. Trends in risk across the baseline categories were calculated, assigning re-measured intakes from a subsample.


During a mean follow-up of 6.9 years, 28 955 participants were diagnosed with malignant cancer. After correction for multiple testing, red and processed meat combined, and processed meat, were each positively associated with colorectal cancer risk [hazard ratio (HR) per 70 g/day higher intake of red and processed meat 1.32, 95% confidence interval 1.14–1.53; HR per 20 g/day higher intake of processed meat 1.18, 1.03–1.31] and red meat was associated with colon cancer risk (HR per 50 g/day higher intake of red meat 1.36, 1.13–1.64). Positive associations of red meat intake with colorectal and prostate cancer, processed meat intake with rectal cancer and poultry intake with cancers of the lymphatic and haematopoietic tissues did not survive multiple testing.


Higher intake of red and processed meat was specifically associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer; there was little evidence that meat intake was associated with risk of other cancers.

Publication details

Knuppel, A., Papier, K., Fensom, G.K., Appleby, P.N., Schmidt, J.A., Tong, T.Y.N., Travis, R.C. Key, T.J., Perez-Cornago, A. 2020. Meat intake and cancer risk: prospective analyses in UK Biobank, International Journal of Epidemiology, , dyaa142,