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08th September 2017

Curb Your Risk for Bowel Cancer

Although there are no guarantees with regards cancer prevention, it’s clear there are choices we can make to lower our risk.

Colorectal (bowel) cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. However, it is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and is responsible for more than 16,000 deaths each year. WCRF estimates that about 45 per cent of bowel cancer cases could be prevented in the UK each year through healthy lifestyle changes.

New report looks at what dietary factors can affect the risk of developing colorectal cancer

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) have just published a new report evaluating the global scientific research on how diet, weight and physical activity affect colorectal cancer risk. This included 99 studies (involving 29 million people), of whom over a quarter of a million were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Such AICR/WCRF expert reports are considered authoritative and underpin current guidelines and policy for cancer prevention.

The main findings of the report are as follows:

  • Eating around 3 servings (90g) of whole grains each day reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percent. This is the first time AICR/WCRF has specifically linked whole grain intake with lower cancer risk and adds to the evidence that high fibre foods are protective
  • There is strong evidence that being more physically active protects against colon (but not rectal) cancer
  • Regular consumption of processed meats, consuming two or more alcoholic drinks daily, eating >500g red meat weekly and being overweight or obese increase the risk of colorectal cancer
  • There is evidence that consuming dairy products reduces risk
  • There is more limited evidence of increased risk with low intakes (<100g) of non-starchy vegetables and fruit. Fish and foods containing vitamin C were considered protective

This new report supports advice to increase intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as to reduce consumption of processed meat and increase physical activity. Many of the ways to help prevent colorectal cancer are also important for overall health.

A few practical menu inclusions to support a dietary pattern that may help reduce risk of colorectal cancer include:

  • Making sure that alternatives to processed meats are available - a ham sandwich is fine but not everyday so vary sandwich fillings
  • Try and add veg and beans to meat dishes like shepherd pie – you can reduce the amount of red meat and increase veg
  • Serve wholegrains in addition to white varieties – such as including wholegrain breakfast cereals and porridge (made with milk), wholewheat breads and pasta
  • Include seasonal fruit or canned/frozen fruit in puddings

Diet and lifestyle have a major role in colorectal cancer, measures such as eating more wholegrain foods, e.g. brown rice and wholewheat bread, can make a difference - so put them on the menu!

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Ayela Spiro

Nutrition Science Manager, British Nutrition Foundation

Ayela is a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, where her role involves providing expert advice on nutrition and health issues to a number of key audiences including consumers, health professionals, charities, the media and the food industry. At the heart of her work is the communication of nutrition science that promotes understanding of nutrition and health and contributes to the improved wellbeing of all.

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