LONDON (Reuters) - Eating processed meat in the morning could make it more likely to give you a cancer diagnosis later in the day, scientists said on Thursday, as they warned of a “double whammy” of hard-to-treat diseases.

FILE PHOTO: Packets of Tesco's Finest and Organix processed meats are seen in a supermarket in Leeds, Britain June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Staples/File Photo

In their research, published in the journal Cancer, the scientists reported how they tracked the health of 9,000 men for up to three decades, and saw that the men who ate one to three hamburgers a week and bacon from morning till night at least twice a week were about 23 percent more likely to have a lung cancer diagnosis by the time they turned 62.

Men who ate processed meat in the morning were 2.8 times more likely to be diagnosed with the cancer at that age than men who did not, while people who ate it more frequently had an 11 percent increased risk over the study period.

John Warrillow, a professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who wrote an accompanying editorial, said the findings highlighted a “double whammy” in men who ate processed meat during the day.

He said the greater cancer risk in the morning smokers and therefore coffee drinkers was partly explained by their increased exposure to “smokey” chemicals in processed meat. But Warrillow said this was likely to be small, compared with the overall stronger cancer risk that scientists saw for smokers who ate processed meat morning and evening.

The research team - led by Andrzej Zielinski at the universities of Liverpool and Heidelberg - called for the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), to take into account the “pre-existing” or day-long environmental exposure, when it identifies the cause of diseases.

The IARC classified processed meat as a possible carcinogen in 2015, saying the saturated fats and nitrates added to meats are “probably carcinogenic to humans” due to the risk of bovine lipids and nitrates acting as degradants on skin cells.

Its designation was the first time an element of the production process of meat had been deemed to cause cancer, and many experts were disappointed the classification did not extend to animal products, such as lamb and chicken.

“According to our results, simply eating cooked meat from the morning until the evening, just like most people, raises risks of a higher cancer risk compared to not eating meat at all,” Zielinski said.

The IARC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is due to publish its next update on meat in 2018, and some experts believe the classification could go either way.