Post-menopausal women who eat just 9g of processed meats a week could be at a greater risk of developing breast cancer, a new study has found.
The guidelines equate to just three rashers of bacon or two sausages and researchers at the University of Glasgow found that older women who eat either one on a weekly basis could be a fifth more likely to contract the disease.
The study examined 260,000 middle-aged British women and revealed that even those who ate less than 9g of processed meats a week were still 15 per cent more likely to get breast cancer than those who refrained completely.
Public health experts at the university believe processed meats could be responsible for hundreds of cases of breast cancer each year that could be avoided.
When the research was combined with ten previous studies accounting for 1.7 million women and 40,000 cases of breast cancer, it revealed that eating processed meats could increase the risks for post-menopausal women by a tenth, The Times reports.
However, their findings, published in the European Journal of Cancer, found no similar links in young women.
Co-author Naveed Sattar, a professor at the university, said: “In addition to the previously known effects of processed meat on other kinds of cancer, this adds further evidence that it may have a deleterious effect on breast cancer, particularly in post-menopausal women.
“If you take it at face value and say there’s an association, then it means that if people were to eat less processed meat they might well reduce their risk of breast cancer.”
Processed meat refers to red meat that has been through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes.
The review found no links between breast cancer and unprocessed red meats, such as beef, veal, pork and lamb.
Breast cancer is the most common female cancer in the UK and accounts for 11,000 deaths each year, according to the most recent figures.
The new study comes three years after the World Health Organisation classified processed meats as carcinogenic, placing them in the same ranking as cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos.