Almost half a million older Americans took part in the research, conducted by the US National Cancer Research Institute, which found an increased risk of oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma in those with a fondness for red and processed meats.
The highest fifth of meat-eaters were 79 per cent more likely than those in the bottom fifth to develop the cancer, which occurs in the upper part of the oesophagus.
Cooking or grilling meat at high temperatures also forms compounds known as HCAs (heterocyclic amines), which have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals – those with the highest intake of HCAs were found by researchers to be at increased risk of developing cancer in the upper stomach close to the oesophagus (gastric cardia).
The study does not prove that the two cancers are promoted by excessive consumption of red and processed meat, the researchers say, but adds to a growing body of evidence highlighting a link.
The study followed 494,979 adults aged 50-71 over roughly a decade, asking them to complete a detailed questionnaire about their meat-eating habits, including how they cooked it and for how long, as well as other information about their lifestyles.
215 people developed oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma, including 28 people in the bottom fifth of red-meat-eaters, and 69 in the top fifth. Of the 454 who went on to develop gastric cardia cancer, 57 were in the bottom fifth and 113 in the top fifth.