Eating even small amounts of bacon can increase the risk of bowel cancer, according to experts at Oxford university.
The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and involved analysing data from almost half a million people involved in the UK Biobank study over a six-year period.
From the data studied by the team, 2,609 people developed bowel cancer.
From this the researchers estimated that eating three rashers of bacon per day rather than just one could increase a person’s risk of bowl cancer by up to 20%.
Forty people per 10,000 who ate 21g of red meat per day were diagnosed with bowel cancer – this rose to 48/10,000 of people who ate 76g per day.
The NHS say that 76g of cooked red meat is roughly half an 8oz sirloin steak, while a rasher of bacon is around 23g of processed meat.
Cancer Research UK say that cutting out processed meat altogether would reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer.
Processed meat includes meat that has been smoked, cured or had added salt or preservatives – these methods are often used in bacon, hot dogs, salami and some sausages.
Emma Shields of Cancer Research UK said: “This study shows the more meat you eat, the higher your risk of getting cancer and obviously the reverse is true – the less you eat the less likely you are to get bowel cancer.”
Experts are still unsure why such processes increase the risk of cancer but it is thought that the chemicals involved have a negative impact.
Results also show this to be true when red meat such as beef, lamb and pork are cooked on a barbecue at a very high temperature.
The proteins in the meats can damage the gut when it is broken down.
Prof Gunter Kuhnle, at the University of Reading said: “The results confirm previous findings that both, red and processed meat consumption, increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
“The increase in risk of approximately 20% per 50g increase of red and processed meat intake is in line with what has been reported previously and confirms these findings.
“The study also shows that dietary fibre reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. An increased consumption of fibre, as shown by this study, would be of considerably more benefit.”