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Poultry and Penile Cancer

One of the reasons it’s so difficult to study the relationship between diet and cancer is because many dietary behaviors are associated with non-dietary behaviors. For example, one of the reasons we used to think coffee-drinking caused cancer was because people who drink coffee are more likely to have a cigarette in the other hand, which led to spurious conclusions. When you factor in those considerations, we find that coffee consumption may actually decrease cancer risk, as I detailed in Wednesday’s Care2 post Coffee and Cancer.

The reason it was so difficult to study cancer among coffee-drinkers is the same reason it’s so difficult to study cancer among meateaters. Historically, those eating vegetarian have been noted to have lower cancer rates, but maybe it’s just because they exercise more, or smoke less, or inhale less diesel fumes because they all own a Prius!

In my 3 min. video Vegetarians Versus Healthy Omnivores I profile new data that attempts to control for non-dietary factors by effectively comparing vegetarians only to meateaters who are as slim as vegetarians, exercise as much, smoke as little, and even eat roughly the same amount of fruits and vegetables. After all, maybe the reason vegetarians have been shown to be healthier is less about eating less meat, and more about eating more plants. Though these rigorous controls undercut key vegetarian advantages, such as lower obesity rates, even when vegetarians were compared in effect only to healthy meateaters with healthier diets, researchers still found “the incidence of all cancers combined was lower among vegetarians.”

The most striking difference between the dietary groups was in the risk for cancers of the blood and bone marrow, such as non-Hodgkins lymphoma, various leukemias, and myeloma (more details in my 2 min. video EPIC Findings on Lymphoma). Chicken consumption appeared the most hazardous, associated with up to triple the cancer rates for every 50 grams of daily poultry consumption—that’s just a quarter of a chicken breast worth!

Why was there so much more lymphoma and leukemia risk among those eating just a small serving of chicken a day? As detailed in my 2 min. video Chicken Dioxins, Viruses, or Antibiotics?, the association between poultry and cancer may be explained by the presence in chickens’ and turkeys’ flesh of drugs that were fed to the birds, industrial carcinogens such as dioxins, and/or the presence of oncogenic (cancer-causing) viruses.

In Poultry and Penis Cancer I present the largest study to date on poultry workers and cancer mortality, which found a whopping 8-fold increased risk of dying from penile cancer compared to controls, a finding thought due to chicken virus exposure, raising broader food safety concerns. If chickens can be infected with viruses linked to cancer in consumers, then what about eggs? That’s today’s video pick featured above.

These cancer-causing viruses found in chicken and eggs are utterly destroyed by proper cooking, so the primary risk of infection would presumably be associated with cross-contamination, such as when mixing cake batter, handling raw poultry, or even just touching meat in the supermarket.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

Image credit: Kate Tomlinson / Flicker

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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12:49PM PST on Dec 11, 2013

Ty for sharing

12:48PM PST on Dec 11, 2013

Ty for sharing

5:55AM PDT on May 2, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Interesting but every year there is a new study finding such and such causes cancer. Organic is the best way to go. There are so many chemicals and toxins in our foods be it chicken, beef, veggies, fruits - along with genetically modified items...becoming a vegetarian or vegan is not going to change things unless people stick to purely organic sources which in some cases is not always possible.

I don't trust every study, one year something comes up and then a few years later it is discounted by yet another study. We have always been told to eat whole grains unless one is gluten intolerant yet some studies are now saying we should not even be eating whole grains as it can contribute to mental illness.

I give up and will go on munching my whole grains, quinoa, chicken, beef - (all one needs is a small serving of meat-the size of a deck of cards per portion not a cruise ship sized serving!) Yes, will also graze on my spinach, kale, colourful bell peppers, fish, garlic and whatever.

Have no desire to be a vegetarian although there are even days when my red quinoa, kasha, and salad give me some meat less days. Use your own sense with a balanced diet. We will all die some day and every one will just have to avoid all the toxins they can and do what suits their lifestyle.

5:50PM PDT on May 31, 2012


12:09PM PDT on May 22, 2012

Cancer is Gods way of punishing those who eat his animal friends.

1:08PM PDT on May 21, 2012

Kim W. - that's funny; once again you state that all of the vegans you know are sick and pasty. I have the opposite situation - most I know are extremely healthy. Did you ever see that gigantic list of vegan athletes that I once posted? They are setting and breaking records for energy, strength, flexibility... Seeing as though you profit by killing animals so that people can eat them, it becomes understandable why you're constantly telling this "sick vegan" story. Some vegans do get sick - they eat nothing but nutter butter cookies and soy milk - that's why they get sick; because they're not making sure they eat a variety of foods. They're not getting sick because they're vegan.

12:21PM PDT on May 17, 2012

hmm wow. thanks

12:42PM PDT on May 14, 2012

A full skale, pun intended, vegetarian diet looks like the order of the day!

10:21AM PDT on May 14, 2012


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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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