Could This Diet Raise your Risk of Colon Cancer?

A pro-inflammatory diet replete in red, processed, and organ meat, among other foods, increases the risk for colorectal cancer (CRC) in both men and women. It is especially risky in overweight and obese men, and, paradoxically, also in lean women.

Today, we turn again to ways you can use your diet to reduce your risk of cancer; more specifically, we will focus on the harm of a so-called pro-inflammatory diet. Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (USA) reported two provocative findings this week in the online issue of JAMA Oncology. Let’s cut to the chase and tell you what you need to know. There were two major findings from this study: 1) Higher dietary inflammatory potential was associated with an increased risk of developing colon or rectal cancer among both men and women; and 2) the risk of colon or rectal cancer appeared even higher amongst overweight and obsessive men and in lean women and among men and women not consuming alcohol.

The team rated 18 food groups for their inflammatory potential, using a score based on three inflammatory biomarkers (interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha receptor 2. They then rated diets on a continuum from a maximally anti-inflammatory diet to a maximally pro-inflammatory one. Foods that raised the concentrations of these inflammatory markers included tomatoes; high- and low-energy carbonated beverages; vegetables other than green leafy and dark yellow vegetables, and processed or red meat, organ meat, and fish other than dark-meat fish. On the other hand, beer, wine, tea, coffee, dark yellow and dark yellow vegetables, snacks, fruit juice, and pizza were inversely related to concentrations of these same inflammatory markers.

The bottom line? Colorectal cancer risk was nearly 1.5-times higher among overweight or obese men with the most pro-inflammatory diets, as compared to those with the least inflammatory diets. Even lean women had a higher risk with the pro-inflammatory diet, with the chances for getting colorectal cancer rising by a factor of 1.31.

The alcohol finding is puzzling, as it is in contrast to many previous studies in which alcohol raised cancer risk. It may be that alcohol increases that risk through mechanisms unrelated to inflammation.

So, you may be able to reduce your own chances of getting colorectal cancer. Multiple studies have shown a baby aspirin reduces the risk, perhaps partly through inhibition of inflammation. Now, we know that diet can similarly affect your state of inflammation, perhaps independently of the aspirin effect. Finally, if you are at higher risk of colorectal cancer (say, a family member had the disease, or through some personal risk factors), please discuss other potential interventions (e.g. more frequent colonoscopy; consideration of a baby aspirin daily). And all of us should check in with our healthcare provider to see when we are due for a colonoscopy. And yes, I am personally overdue! I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

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JAMA Oncol. Published online January 18, 2018.

Medscape Oncology 2018