Behind the headline: Is eating chicken linked to cancer?

At present there is not enough evidence to confirm a link between chicken and non-Hodgkin lymphoma or to recommend that people stop eating chicken.

Cooked roast chicken on a wooden platter

Image by Wow Phochiangrak from Pixabay 

You might have seen a number of newspaper reports over the weekend highlighting a recent study that indicated there might be a link between eating chicken and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The study in question used information from a UK database of almost 500,000 people. It looked at what their diet was when they entered the database and whether they went on to develop any of the 20 most common cancers. The results were analysed using statistical methods to see if there might be a link between diet and cancer. The research found that eating more red and processed meat was associated with a higher risk of developing bowel cancer. It also found that eating more chicken was associated with a slightly increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Finding an association between eating chicken and developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not the same as finding that eating chicken causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Associations might suggest that one factor causes another, but they might also be down to chance, or due to something else entirely that happens to be more common both in people who eat chicken and in people who develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In a well-known example from Maine in the US, eating more margarine is associated with a higher divorce rate – but this does not mean that eating margarine causes divorce.

In this current study, the research authors themselves are cautious about drawing any particular conclusion about the association between chicken and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. They state that further research is needed to look into the association in more detail.

So at present there is not enough evidence to confirm a link between chicken and non-Hodgkin lymphoma or to recommend that people stop eating chicken. We recommend a healthy balanced diet including a combination of foods from different food groups and to always speak to your doctor for advice if you are thinking of making changes to your diet to make sure it is safe to do so.

 
This research has suggested a possible link but it’s too early to show if this research is important for our health. 
Stephen Scowcroft, Lymphoma Action

12 September 2019