The supposed link between eating red meat and barbecued meat in particular and cancer is back in the melting pot after Swedish researchers were unable to establish a definite connection.
It has been hypothesised that compounds known as HCAs (heterocyclic amines), which are formed during high termperature grilling such as barbecuing, are cancer causing.
But when researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm questioned 600 colorectal cancer patients about their eating habits, they discovered that they had not been eating meat high in HCAs.
In an accompanying comment, David Forman from the University of Leeds points out that colorectal cancer seems to be linked to the consumption of red meat rather than chicken or fish, yet HCAs are just as likely to be formed in white meats that are grilled or fried.
Perhaps, he surmises, the HCA risk applies only to those who are genetically disposed to it. As to the rest, there is still no definitive proof of a link (Lancet, 1999; 353: 703-7).