Food by VICE

Meat Is Having the Worst Month Ever

First there was the cage-rattling WHO report; now, this study says that pan-frying or barbecuing your meat can cause kidney cancer.

by Alex Swerdloff
Nov 11 2015, 3:00pm

Photo via Flickr user booleansplit

It's not easy being meat. At least not of late. As we reported, the World Health Organization recently told everyone that if you eat meat, you're basically going to die prematurely. Ok, maybe it's not that bad; what they really did was issue a report that categorized processed meats as a carcinogen along the lines of tobacco, arsenic, alcohol, and asbestos. But still, the news sucked for lovers of bacon and hot dogs.

READ: Italy's Prosciutto Industry Is Pissed at the WHO's Report About Meat's Health Risks

And so does this news: a study from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, published this week in the journal CANCER, says that researchers have discovered that a diet high in barbecued and pan-fried meat products may very well lead to a higher risk of developing the most common form of kidney cancer.


Renal cell carcinoma, or RCC, will, according to the American Cancer Society's calculations, be diagnosed in over 60,000 new patients this year and kill 14,000 people. A diet high in meat products has long been suspected as a factor in this rising number.

So, researchers got to work to see if they could find out more about the correlation between meat and kidney cancer. They looked at the eating habits of 659 MD Anderson patients with RCC and compared them to 699 healthy subjects. Based on survey responses, the researchers figured out how much meat the participants were eating and also how much exposure to mutagens they had experienced. Mutagens are harmful compounds created when meat is cooked at a high temperature.

"We found elevated RCC risk associated with both meat intake and meat-cooking mutagens, suggesting independent effect of meat-cooking mutagens on RCC risk," said Xifeng Wu, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology and a senior author of the study.

Great news, right? Not.

Yup, kidney cancer patients ate more meat—of all kinds—compared to healthy individuals. The results also showed that cooking method counts. High-temperature cooking is a particular problem.

There is a genetic component here. "By analyzing genes known to be associated with RCC risk, we found that high intake of these carcinogens may be particularly meaningful for a certain subgroup of the population," said Stephanie Melkonian, PhD, postdoctoral fellow of epidemiology, and lead author of the study. If you have variations in the gene known as ITPR2, you could be in trouble.

Why would cooking method make a difference? It is thought that when meat is cooked at high temperatures or over an open flame—i.e, when it is barbecued or pan-fried—carcinogens are formed. Our kidneys filter harmful toxins from the body, and therefore it makes sense that they take the impact, Melkonian suggests.

"Our findings support reducing consumption of meat, especially meat cooked at high temperatures or over an open flame, as a public health intervention to reduce RCC risk and burden," said Wu. When grilling or pan-frying meat, try to avoid charring it as much as possible, they say.

Are they kidding? Try to avoid char? We love char!

Oh well. We are very sorry to report this news and hope you will not confuse the message with the messenger. In fact, may we direct you to our many delicious meat recommendations, like Asian Barbecue Ribs or Pan-Seared Blade Steak with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms?

Apologies in advance if your genes don't cooperate.

kidney cancer