Health Team

Dietary Patterns Factor In Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Medical research often links specific foods with cancer risk, but an UNC study says dietary patterns can be more important than any one food group.

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently found that it is not one kind of food that increases or decreases the risk of colorectal cancer, but it is a person's overall dietary pattern that plays a role.

Rather than individual foods, UNC researchers looked at overall dietary patterns of colorectal cancer patients. Research has shown the relationship between red meat and colon cancer, but a study implies lots of other meats are also involved.

"People, who tend to eat a lot of red meat, also tend to eat other meats such as pork and chicken," said UNC gastroenterologist Dr. Gregory Austin.

According to the study, it is a diet rich in meat of any kind of meat that may increase a person's risk for colorectal cancer. According to his study, fruit seems to reduce the risk.

Federal dietary guidelines emphasize fruits and vegetables for their overall health benefits, but the question is whether vegetables reduce the risk of colorectal cancer?

"People that seem to eat a lot of vegetables did not seem to be protected from developing colorectal precancerous polyps," Austin said.

Austin said that may be due to the fact that vegetables often accompany meat in the average American diet. He said it is the overall dietary pattern people should look at.

Austin said the right balance of fruits, vegetables with a reduced emphasis on meats may be the best formula to reduce one's risk.

For people at average risk of colorectal cancer, screening, which includes a colonoscopy, should begin by age 50. According to Austin, people with a strong family history of colorectal cancer should begin screening earlier, at least 10 years earlier than the age at which their family member was diagnosed.

Health experts said colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined. African-Americans are at highest risk for colorectal cancer. Health experts said they should begin screening at age 45.