There is no simple way to measure how much
eating meat will increase your cancer risk. In
general, it is extraordinarily difficult to
determine which substances are carcinogens.
Even the best methods are sometimes questionable.
Substances are determined to be carcinogens
in a few ways. One is by looking at whether
people that come in contact with the substance get
cancer more often. This can
be hard to determine because there are many
factors that can increase cancer risk and it’s
often hard to figure out if one of them is
important. Also a substance can be tested for its
ability to mutate DNA, which is how cancer usually
starts. However, just because a substance
mutates DNA in one circumstance doesn’t mean it
that it causes cancer in practice. A third
method is to feed the substance to mice and
see if they get cancer. The somewhat obvious issue
with this approach is that we aren’t mice so a
substance may affect a mouse different than a
In the case of meat, experts decided that eating
red meat and processed meat increase the risk
of colorectal cancer by looking at a LOT of
studies that used a bunch of different methods.
The one way to approach a science fair project
of this type is to pick a specific known
carcinogen in meat and measure its concentration.
The issue with this is that the study found that
eating meat increases cancer risk, without
pointing out specific substances. So the
conclusion wasn’t that a specific substance causes
cancer, just eating meat in general. While this is
an interesting scientific question, even the best
scientists struggle with it.
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