Poultry Exposure Tied to Liver & Pancreatic Cancer

Poultry Exposure Tied to Liver & Pancreatic Cancer
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Cancer-causing viruses in poultry may explain increased risks of death from liver and pancreatic cancers.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Thousands of Americans continue to die from asbestos exposure decades after many uses were banned, because the cancers can take years to show up. We’re 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 shipbuilders 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 “[p]otential 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 [CDC], the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the [EPA] have projected…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.” But, it all started with the workers. As one internal industry memo callously put it, “If [you’ve] enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products why not die from it.”

To see if something is carcinogenic, you 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. Last year, I talked about the largest study to date at the time, confirming “the findings of three other…studies that workers in poultry slaughtering and processing plants have increased risk of dying from certain cancers,” and adding death from penis cancer to the risks linked to poultry exposure. That was looking at 20,000 poultry workers. Well, we have yet another study, looking at 30,000.

The purpose of the study 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 9 times the odds of both pancreatic cancer and liver cancer.

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

For liver cancer, it’s more alcohol. Those that consume more than a four drinks a day have triple the odds of liver cancer, whereas poultry slaughtering appears to increase one’s odds nine-fold.

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. But the pancreatic cancer one might get from handling chicken is the same pancreatic cancer one might get smoking cigarettes, so it’s more difficult to tease out a cause-and-effect-relationship. So, don’t expect to see an asbestos-type ban on Kentucky Fried Chicken anytime soon.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help. Image thanks to dno1967b via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Thousands of Americans continue to die from asbestos exposure decades after many uses were banned, because the cancers can take years to show up. We’re 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 shipbuilders 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 “[p]otential 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 [CDC], the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the [EPA] have projected…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.” But, it all started with the workers. As one internal industry memo callously put it, “If [you’ve] enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products why not die from it.”

To see if something is carcinogenic, you 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. Last year, I talked about the largest study to date at the time, confirming “the findings of three other…studies that workers in poultry slaughtering and processing plants have increased risk of dying from certain cancers,” and adding death from penis cancer to the risks linked to poultry exposure. That was looking at 20,000 poultry workers. Well, we have yet another study, looking at 30,000.

The purpose of the study 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 9 times the odds of both pancreatic cancer and liver cancer.

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

For liver cancer, it’s more alcohol. Those that consume more than a four drinks a day have triple the odds of liver cancer, whereas poultry slaughtering appears to increase one’s odds nine-fold.

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. But the pancreatic cancer one might get from handling chicken is the same pancreatic cancer one might get smoking cigarettes, so it’s more difficult to tease out a cause-and-effect-relationship. So, don’t expect to see an asbestos-type ban on Kentucky Fried Chicken anytime soon.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help. Image thanks to dno1967b via flickr

Nota del Doctor

I’ve addressed this topic before. See:

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

A human wart virus, HPV, can be combatted with green tea (see Treating Genital Warts with Green Tea), and plant-based diets in general (see 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. For more on that, see Eating Outside Our Kingdom.

For further context, check out my associated blog posts: How Animal Proteins May Trigger Autoimmune Disease, and Handling Poultry Tied to Liver/Pancreatic Cancer.

erratum: at 3:16 I say “lung” cancer. As shown on the slide, and in the transcript, I meant to say “liver” cancer–sorry about that! I’ll add this to the list of videos to be rerecorded to correct it.

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