Cancerous cells are viscous because they divide and multiply uncontrollably. This process is ultimately responsible for the deaths of millions of people every year. Until a cure is found, modifying your risk of developing the disease is the best weapon you can wield.

There are some surprising ways of doing this. Although the relationship to diet is complex, research has found compelling evidence that particular foods can increase your risk of cancer.

It would be prudent to avoid Cantonese-style salted fish for this very reason.

The Diet and Cancer Report, produced in 2018 by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), looked at the many ways in which our diets, and how active we are, affect our cancer risk.

Its findings included “strong evidence” that Cantonese-style salted fish increases the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer – a rare type of cancer that affects the part of the throat connecting the back of the nose to the back of the mouth (the pharynx).

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Cantonese-style salted fish, which is preserved or cured with salt, is a staple food in parts of Asia.

Compared to other salted foods, Cantonese-style salted fish is characterised by using less salt and a higher degree of fermentation during the drying process than fish preserved (or salted) by other means, because of the relatively high outdoor temperature and moisture levels.

The WCRF report notes a global recommendation about consumption of Cantonese-style salted fish has not been made, as this type of fish is consumed only in specific parts of the world.

Nevertheless, the Panel advises that it’s best not to consume Cantonese-style salted fish.

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“There is also other evidence on preservation and processing of foods that is limited (either in amount or by methodological flaws), but is suggestive of an increased risk of some cancers,” the report says.

“Further research is required, and the Panel has not used this evidence to make recommendations.”

What accounts for this effect?

Cantonese-style salted fish contains nitrosamines and nitrosamine precursors.

High levels of one such nitrosamine, N-nitrosodimethylamine, found in some samples of Cantonese-style salted fish, has been shown to induce cancer development in experimental models in animals.

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Eating processed and red meat can cause bowel cancer.

Processed meat means any meat that’s been preserved or changed. This could be by smoking, curing, salting, canning or adding preservatives.

Processed meat includes ham, bacon, salami and sausages. It also includes processed white meat such as chicken nuggets and sliced lunch meats.

Red meat includes all fresh, minced, and frozen beef, pork and lamb.

“Fresh white meat, such as chicken and fish, is not linked to an increased risk of cancer,” notes Cancer Research UK.