The study, designed by Kana Wu, principal research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found that frequent consumption of red and processed meat is linked with a specific pattern of DNA damage, known as an “alkylating mutational signature,” in colorectal tumors. This “alkylating” damage was caused by specific compounds that are produced in the body after consuming red meat, according to a July 22, 2021, National Cancer Institute article.
The article noted that such mutational signatures are similar to crime scene fingerprints, allowing researchers to trace the origins of the mutations that led to a tumor’s formation, and that the new discovery may be useful in preventing, detecting, and treating colorectal cancer.
In a video interview on OncologyTube, Wu explained that the preservatives in processed meats may contain alkylating agents, which are responsible for the type of DNA damage found in the study. She added that high consumption of red and processed meat is also associated with higher risk of other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, not just colorectal cancers—important considerations when making dietary choices.