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Foods that may increase the risk of cancer

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Cancer is a very complex disease. There are many different types of cancer, as well as many possible causes. Although not all the factors about cancer are known, many factors that may contribute to the development of cancer are well documented.

 The main factors which play a role are genetic makeup and family history. However, external factors that the person may be able to control such as lifestyle habits have an impact too.

 One of the most important aspects to be considered for a healthy life is a person’s diet. This is because certain foods are associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer as well as other diseases.

What are the foods that can increase the risk of cancer?

Certain foods can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, which are related to some types of cancer. Other foods contain carcinogens, which are dangerous substances that can cause cancer.

 However, it is noteworthy that exposure to carcinogens does not always cause cancer. The risk of cancer is dependent on the person’s genetics as well as the degree and duration of exposure to the carcinogen.

Foods that can increase the risk of different types of cancer are:

1. Processed meats

 Any type of meat that is preserved through smoking, salting, curing, or canning is processed meat. The majority of the processed meats are red meats. Certain examples of processed red meat include:

  • Hot dogs
  • Salami
  • Sausage
  • Ham
  • Beef jerky
  • Corned beef

 Carcinogens can be created by the methods used to make processed meat. Curing meat with nitrite can create carcinogens called N-nitroso compounds. Smoking meat may result in carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

 Processed meat is a major risk factor for colorectal cancer and has also been found to be linked to stomach cancer. High consumption of processed meat is related to an increased risk of breast cancer as well.

2. Fried food

 When starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures, a compound called acrylamide is produced. The compound can also be formed during frying, baking, roasting, and toasting.

Fried starchy foods including fried potato products, such as French fries and potato chips are very high in acrylamide. Acrylamide damages DNA and causes apoptosis or cell death.

Eating too much of fried foods increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Oxidative stress and inflammation can also be promoted by these conditions, further increasing the risk of cancer.

3. Overcooked food

Carcinogens can be produced by overcooked foods, especially meats. Cooking meat at high heat creates carcinogenic PAHs and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) that can increase the risk of cancer by altering the DNA of the person’s cells. It includes cooking methods such as:

  • Grilling
  • Barbecuing
  • Pan-frying

Acrylamide formation is increased by overcooking starchy foods, such as potatoes. To decrease the risk of carcinogens from high-heat cooking, people must try cooking methods that are healthy such as:

  • Poaching
  • Pressure cooking
  • Roasting or baking at low temperatures
  • Cooking slowly in a crockpot or slow cooker

4. Dairy

 Dairy products including milk, cheese, and yogurt can increase the risk of prostate cancer.  Consuming dairy products increases levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) that is related to a higher risk of prostate cancer because IGF-1 can increase the proliferation, or production of prostate cancer cells.

5. Sugar and refined carbohydrates

 The risk of cancer can be indirectly increased by sugary foods and refined carbs. Certain examples of these foods include:

  • Sugary sweetened beverages
  • Baked goods
  • White pasta, bread, and rice
  • Sugary cereals

Eating foods high in sugar and starch can put the person at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity.  Inflammation and oxidative stress are promoted by both these conditions. This can increase the risk of certain types of cancer.

The risk of ovarian, breast, and endometrial (uterine) cancer is increased by type 2 diabetes. Eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates can also lead to high blood glucose levels which could be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

To reduce the health effects of refined carbohydrates, try changing these foods with healthy choices such as:

  • Whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Oats

6. Alcohol

When alcohol is consumed by the person, their liver breaks down alcohol into a carcinogenic compound called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde promotes DNA damage and oxidative stress and also interferes with immune system function, making it difficult for the body to target pre-cancerous and cancerous cells.

Alcohol raises estrogen levels in the body of women. This is associated with an increased risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.


Processed meat, overcooked foods, and fried foods may increase the risk of certain types of cancer because these foods may contain carcinogens or compounds that cause cancer.

Alcohol produces carcinogens when it is digested by the body. Dairy, sugar, and refined carbs may increase the risk of certain types of cancers.

To reduce the risk of cancer, people should try to reduce the consumption of these foods, and focus on healthy lifestyle habits. This includes eating more foods that have a reduced risk of triggering cancer, exercising regularly, and finding ways to reduce stress.

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