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Colorectal Cancer, Red Meat and Fiber Link Confirmed


If you were still wondering if red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer and if fiber intake can protect against it, wonder no more. The results of the most comprehensive report ever from worldwide experts, has determined that red and processed meats raise the risk of the disease and that there is more proof than ever that dietary fiber provides protection.

Dietary changes could cut colorectal cancer 45%

The new report on colorectal cancer is part of the work of the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research’s (WCRF/AICR) Continuous Update Project (CUP) Expert Panel, which has been exploring the association between the risk of colorectal cancer and diet, weight, and exercise. These new findings update those from the 2007 Expert Report.

Scientists at Imperial College London reviewed the evidence for the report, which included new information from 263 papers on colorectal cancer along with the 749 that had been part of the 2007 Report. Then an independent CUP Expert Panel analyzed the entire body of evidence and reported on their findings.

According to Elisa Bandera, MD, PhD, who was part of the CUP Expert Panel, the AICR “has estimated that about 45 percent of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented if we all ate more fiber-rich plant foods and less meat, drank less alcohol, moved more and stayed lean.” She also noted that “This report shows that colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.”

Regarding red meat (e.g., beef, pork, lamb), the Panel explained that people who eat 3.5 ounces of red meat daily have a 17 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer than someone who eats no red meat. Those who consume 7 ounces of red meat daily have a 34 percent greater risk. People who eat less than 18 ounces per week have little risk, according to the Panel’s findings.

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Processed meat consumption (e.g., ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs) is associated with an ever higher risk of colorectal cancer. People who consume 3.5 ounces of processed meat daily have a 36 percent greater risk than someone who eats no processed meat. Anyone eating 7 ounces of processed meat daily has a 72 percent greater risk.

The Panel also reported that the role of dietary fiber in protecting against colorectal cancer has been upgraded from “probable” to “convincing” because review of new studies shows the evidence is much stronger and consistent than previously. This finding further supports the AICR’s recommendation for people to eat a plant-based diet.

The experts also concluded there is convincing evidence that maintaining a healthy body weight and being physical active are associated with a lower risk of colon cancer, and that a healthy weight is linked to a lower risk of rectal cancer. When it comes to alcohol, evidence is strong that consumption increases colorectal cancer risk in men and probably also in women.

According to Dr. Alan Jackson, Chair of the CUP Expert Panel, their review provides “strong evidence that many cases of colorectal cancer are not inevitable and that people can significantly reduce their risk by making changes to their diet and lifestyle.”

Specifically, when it comes to red and processed meat, Jackson said “people who want to reduce their risk should consider cutting down the amount they eat.” The Cup Expert Panel also concluded that regular physical activity and dietary fiber reduce risk of colorectal cancer, and that garlic probably cuts the risk as well.

WCRF/AICR CUP Expert Panel report