Red Meat: Does It Cause Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men. 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer sometime in their life.

Prostate cancer can be deadly. 1 in 41 American men dies from this diagnosis. Since prostate cancer is so common, it is important to do as much as possible to prevent it.

Unfortunately, we still do not know what exactly causes prostate cancer. The best thing you can do is take steps to reduce your chances of developing this potentially deadly disease. One way to reduce your risk is to avoid eating red meat.

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What exactly is red meat?

Health Organization also considers processed meat as red meat. These include meat products such as pepperoni, salami, and lunch meat.

It is vital to distinguish between different types of meat:

  • Processed meat: These products are usually from conventionally raised cows, then go through various processing methods. Examples include sausages and bacon.
  • Conventional red meat: Conventional red meats are relatively unprocessed, but the cows are usually factory farmed. Meats that are red when raw are defined as red meats.
  • White meat: Meats that are white when cooked are defined as white meats. This includes meat from poultry like chicken and turkey.
  • Grass-fed, organic meat: This meat comes from animals that have been naturally fed and raised organically, without drugs and hormones. They also don’t have any artificial chemicals added.

Does red meat cause cancer?

We do not know for sure that red meat causes cancer. However, processed meats have been classified as a carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Non-processed red meat has also been listed as a possible cause of a number of diseases, including:

It is not considered a known carcinogen, but the association of red meat intake and cancer is high.

Several studies have been conducted on red meat’s effect on prostate cancer.

A 2009 study found that the consumption of red and processed meats led to an increase in the development of prostate cancer. In addition to this, red meat eaters had a 30% higher risk of developing advanced prostate cancer.

Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reveals that men who eat a lot of red meat are 12 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer. And 33 percent of these men are likely to develop an advanced and aggressive stage.

Does red meat cause an enlarged prostate (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia)?

When it comes to prostate health, diet plays a significant role. Certain foods and beverages are known to have an impact on prostate health because of their effects on testosterone and other hormones.

Red meat is one such food. Research has found that high consumption of red meat, alongside dairy products, can increase the risk of prostate cancer.

This is especially true if a person does not incorporate enough fruits vegetables into their diet.  Daily meat consumption is believed to triple the risk of an enlarged prostate.

Cooking red meat can cause carcinogens

A 2011 study found that the way you cook your meat makes a big difference in your prostate cancer risk.

Those who ate medium and rarer burgers and steaks only had a 12% higher chance of developing prostate cancer than non-red meat-eaters. Those who liked a well-done burger? They were twice as likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer than non-red meat-eaters.

The big problem with red meat is that is can create known carcinogens when cooked at high temperatures. If you think well-done meat is gross, then you are in luck. Science backs you up that you should not eat it. Red meat cooked at high temperatures produces two known carcinogens – HCA and PAH.

Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed when foods like red meat are cooked at a high temperature. The creatine found in the muscle of the meat reacts with amino acids and sugars to produce this chemical. Grilled meats can create polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

PAHs are formed when the fat and juices of meat drip onto the open flame of a grill. The flames react to the liquids, causing PAHs to stick to the outside of the meat. Smoking meats can also cause PAHs to form as well.

The most common type of cancer studied for its relationship to red meat is colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum.

In some cases, this association has been linked to heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and other potentially harmful compounds that form when meat is cooked at high temperatures.

It has also been suggested that the heme iron found in red meat could be a  possible risk factor based on findings in observational studies.


It’s essential to keep in mind that these studies have limitations. It’s impossible to draw firm conclusions from observational studies.

The only way to establish cause and effect is to perform randomized controlled trials. That being said, reducing the consumption of red meat, especially processed varieties, has been associated with potential health benefits, including a potential decrease in the risk of prostate cancer.

Replace red and processed meats with other forms of protein like fish and white meat, including chicken and turkey. You can also get plant-based protein from beans, hemp seeds, quinoa, black beans, green peas, and lentils.

For some, a plant-based diet may take some getting used to. You will need to get creative when cooking familiar dishes and get used to ordering from the non-burger side of the menu when you eat out.

You can still enjoy red meat occasionally, but be careful of how it is prepared. Avoid meats that have been grilled, cooked, or pan-fried for long periods of time.

Order your burger or steak medium or rarer. If you are cooking at home, flip your meat on the grill often and microwave the meat before cooking it, so it does not have to be exposed to high heat as long.

If you absolutely cannot give up your weekly red meat, then make sure you are eating grass-fed red meat, as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables. Green, leafy cruciferous vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy body. These can help offset any ill gut effects caused by red meat.

A well-balanced diet and physical activity have been shown to improve men’s health and to help prevent all types of cancers and improve prostate health.

For more information on the best foods for prostate health click here.

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  2. Joshi AD, Corral R, Catsburg C, Lewinger JP, Koo J, John EM, Ingles S, Stern MC. Red meat and poultry, cooking practices, genetic susceptibility and risk of prostate cancer: results from the California Collaborative Prostate Cancer Study. Carcinogenesis, Jul 20, 2011
  3. Rohrmann S, Overvad K, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, et al. Meat consumption and mortality–results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. BMC Med. 2013;11:63. Published 2013 Mar 7. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-63
  4. Sinha, R, Park, Y, Graubard, B, Leitzmann, M, et al. (2009). Meat and Meat-related Compounds and Risk of Prostate Cancer in a Large Prospective Cohort Study in the United States. American Journal of Epidemiology. 170 (9), P1165–1177.
  5. Saliba W1,2, Rennert HS1,2, Gronich N1,2, Gruber SB3,4, Rennert G. (2019). Red meat and processed meat intake and risk of colorectal cancer: a population-based case-control study.. European Journal of Cancer Prevention.
  6. Tzoulaki I, Brown IJ, Chan Q, et al. Relation of iron and red meat intake to blood pressure: cross sectional epidemiological study. BMJ. 2008;337:a258. Published 2008 Jul 15. doi:10.1136/bmj.a258

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