Poultry Exposure Tied to Liver and Pancreas Cancer

Image Credit: Peter Cooper / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Handling Poultry Tied to Liver/Pancreatic Cancers

Thousands of Americans continue to die from asbestos exposure decades after many uses were banned since the cancers can take years to show up. We are now in the so-called “third wave” of asbestos-related disease. The first wave was in the asbestos miners, which started in the 1920s. The second phase was in the workers—the ship-builders and construction workers that used the stuff in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.

Now, as buildings “constructed with asbestos over the past six decades begin to age and deteriorate,” not only are workers at risk, but “potential also exists for serious environmental exposure to asbestos among residents, tenants and users of these buildings, such as school children, office workers, maintenance workers, and the general public.”

“The Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have projected that over the next 30 years approximately 1,000 cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer will occur among persons in the United States exposed to asbestos in school buildings as school children.”

To see if something is carcinogenic, we study those who have the most exposure. That’s how we learned about the potential cancer-causing dangers of asbestos, and that’s how we’re learning about the potential cancer-causing dangers of poultry viruses. For years I’ve talked about the excess mortality in poultry workers associated with these wart-causing chicken cancer viruses that may be transmitted to those in the general population handling fresh or frozen chicken (See Wart Cancer Viruses in Food). Last year I talked about the largest study at the time “confirming the findings of three other studies to date that workers in poultry slaughtering and processing plants have increased risk of dying from certain cancers,” that also added penis cancer to the risks linked to poultry exposure (See Poultry and Penis Cancer). That was looking at 20,000 poultry workers. Well, we have yet another study, now looking at 30,000.

The purpose of the study, profiled in my video, Poultry Tied to Liver and Pancreatic Cancer, was to test the hypothesis that exposure to poultry cancer-causing viruses that widely occurs occupationally in poultry workers—not to mention the general population—may be associated with increased risks of deaths from liver and pancreatic cancers. They found that those who slaughter chickens have about nine times the odds of both pancreatic cancer and liver cancer.

Just to put this in context, the most carefully studied risk factor for pancreatic cancer, one of our deadliest cancers, is cigarette smoking. Even if we smoke for more than 50 years, though, we “only” about double our odds of pancreatic cancer. Those who slaughter poultry appear to have nearly nine times the odds.

For liver cancer the most well-known and studied cause is alcohol. Those who consume more than four drinks a day have triple the odds of liver cancer. As with pancreatic cancer, poultry slaughtering appears to increase one’s odds of getting liver cancer nine-fold. Thus, the cancer-causing viruses in poultry may explain the increasing risk of death from liver and pancreatic cancers.

There are diseases unique to the meat industry like the newly described “salami brusher’s disease” that affects those whose job it is to wire brush off the white mold that naturally grows on salami for eight hours a day, but most diseases suffered by meat workers are more universal. The reason the connection between asbestos and cancer was so easy to nail down is that asbestos caused a particularly unusual cancer, which was virtually unknown until there was widespread asbestos mining and industrial use. The pancreatic cancer one might get from handling chicken, however, is the same pancreatic cancer one might get smoking cigarettes, so it’s more difficult to tease out a cause-and-effect-relationship. Bottom line: despite the extremely high risks of deadly cancers, don’t expect an asbestos-type ban on Kentucky Fried Chicken anytime soon.

I’ve addressed this topic before. See:

It’s ironic that the meat industry wants to add viruses to meat (Viral Meat Spray) to combat fecal bacterial contamination. I’d take that over their other bright idea any day, though (Maggot Meat Spray).

A human wart virus, HPV, can be combated with green tea (Treating Genital Warts with Green Tea), as well as by plant-based diets in general (Why Might Vegetarians Have Less HPV?).

Although workers with the most poultry exposure appear to suffer the greatest excess mortality, increased deaths from cancer are also found in other slaughterhouse workers. More on that in Eating Outside Our Kingdom.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

17 responses to “Handling Poultry Tied to Liver/Pancreatic Cancers

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  1. I’ve worked in a soup kitchen for about 3 years. A couple of years ago I noticed a small wart on the palm of my hand. I had just come across this website and began devouring the information here. I now wear gloves when handling raw meats. The wart has gone away, I believe, thanks to my WFPB diet. I frequently print articles from this website to share; since I’m the only vegan I know I get asked a lot of questions. I am having an influence, I’m allowed to prepare a small amount of a vegetarian (often vegan) option.
    I’m printing this article to share with the other cooks, who don’t wear gloves when handling raw meats. Thank you for the information; I wonder how many cancers you will prevent and lives you save because of the information you distribute.

    1. Joevegan: Nice post. Hearing stories like yours keeps me going strong on wanting to support this site. I agree, this information is life saving.

      Thank you for sharing and thank you for making the world a better place by working in a soup kitchen. Good luck in your efforts to help people eat healthy there.

    1. That’s such an ignorant response. People who work at those poultry plants work well over eight hours a day on fast paced lines and are not given any breaks nor any relief for the pain that comes from the carpal tunnel developed from their work. Maybe instead you could redirect your anger to the commercial poultry companies that abuse both chickens and their workers, such as Tyson or Perdue.

        1. They are human so I care. I am my brothers keeper. I also care about all life. Why is your compassion so limited? A nation (humanity) divided is easily destroyed. The poor, including “illegal aliens”, are at the highest risk of poor nutrition and the inherent health consequences. Love is the greatest gift; we need to show love to all animals including humans, even “illegal aliens”!

  2. “They found that those who slaughter chickens have about nine times the odds of both pancreatic cancer and liver cancer.”

    I suppose the article’s take-away message is to not slaughter chickens at home for eight hours a day for an extended time.

  3. Oh dear. I’m vegan but I feed my cats frozen, raw, organic chicken. I have to handle it, though I wash before and after handling. I wonder if they can get ill with this. I really don’t know what else to do as they are carnivores.

      1. It is what ALL of the holistic veterinary doctors recommend. It is actual cat food. USDA Organic. In nature, this is what they eat. You ought to do some research Laguna.

  4. Any study showing relationship to type of chicken processing, that is mass production vs small free range farm, daily 8 hour exposure vs 4 hours every 2-4 weeks?

  5. As a healthcare worker, I am amazed at how readily available this information is and yet it is not talked about… EVER. Thanks for opening my eyes!

  6. Essentially NO ANIMAL PROTEIN is supposed to be handled the way it is being handled in the commonly, regularized commercial world we depend on for our ‘safe’ food. I recently watched a few excerpts from the docu-film, ‘Food Inc.’ and noticed that every legitimate farmer who was invested in their life’s work of providing safe and nourishing food to their purchasers fell far short of the ‘standard’ that the government demanded of them. These farmers were actually farming the way it was supposed to be done and there was no illness among the livestock, complete free range of movement among the livestock, no overcrowding, no massive implementation of antibiotics, no mass implementation of chemicals, herbicides, sprays or anything on the produce AND these farmers were consistently being harassed for following non safety tactics of running their farms. When the matter would arrive at the court hierarchy, NO JUDGE would side with the government!!!!! It did demand a lot of money, time, effort and there was loss of income …………… BUT …………. If no one fights …………. ‘our goose is cooked’!!!!! I fight DAILY by REFUSING to purchase ANYTHING that I cannot verify came from farmers like these!!!!!!!

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