Prof. Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said: “There may be good evidence for there being an increased risk, but the magnitude needs to be put into perspective. In the normal run of things, around 6 in every 100 people would be expected to get bowel cancer in their lifetime. If all these 100 people ate a three-rasher (around 50g) bacon sandwich every single day of their lives, then according to this report we would expect that 18% more would get bowel cancer – which is a rise from 6 cases to 7 cases. So that’s one extra case of bowel cancer in all those 100 lifetime bacon-eaters.”
It's definitely correct that processed meats cause cancer, meaning there is sufficient scientific proof that there exists a causal link between eating processed meats and cancer development. But what most people actually care about is not "does there exist a causal link", it's "will this give me cancer?" To which the answer is, "probably not". You'll see that most of the studies link consumption of processed meats and consuming large amount of red meat (unprocessed red meat is safe if not eaten in excess) to mainly bowel but also other types of cancer. But also keep in mind that people who eat processed meats are also less health conscious and tend to exercise less ,smoke ,be obese etc.
First, let's get one thing straight: this was a meta-analysis, the WHO did not do any new research, they simply looked at previous research and drew conclusions from it. That's not bad automatically, but it does mean that to draw real conclusions you have to check the methodology used by their source studies, as well as what the criteria were that the WHO used to select studies. Did they examine all studies fairly, or did they cherry pick studies that already agreed with the conclusion they wanted to reach? Meta-analyses like these are almost never useful on a layman level for this reason, there are too many unknowns involved in it for any of us to reach a real conclusion.
The media has been shameful on this though, deliberately misleading the public in order to sell a good scare story to get clicks and sell ad space. Even if we assume that the meta-analysis done by the WHO is perfectly fair and is drawing real conclusions, even if we just accept it, what did it really find? An 18% increase in colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is already rare, so an 18% increase in it is nothing. Basically for every 5 and a half people that would normally get it, there will be an extra one. What are these normal rates? Low, colorectal cancer is rare. Even in the most cancer heavy states in the US the rate is less than 50 people per 100,000. An 18% increase in that means you'll have 59 people per 100,000. This is not a new health epidemic that we're being warned about, it's the media making a mountain out of a molehill to serve its own purposes (ie to sell more newspapers).


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