Diet Plays a Major Role in Early-Onset Colon Cancer Risk



A new study found a poor diet is associated with an increased risk for aggressive-growing, early age-onset tumors in the lower colon and rectum.

Diet and Colorectal Cancer

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, there is a strong link between diet and early age-onset colorectal cancer, defined as cancer in individuals under age 50. The research team, led by Yin Cao, MPH, ScD, researcher in the division of public health and sciences in the surgery department of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, examined the effect of two types of diets on early age-onset colon cancer risk: the Western Pattern Diet and the prudent diet.

What is the Western Diet?

The Western diet is “a modern-day style diet that mostly contains high amounts of processed foods, red meat, high-fat dairy products, high-sugar foods and pre-packaged foods, that increase the risk of chronic illness.”

The prudent diet focuses on fresh fruit, vegetables, grilled fish and salads.

Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, Cao and his team discovered eating a Western Pattern Diet (WPD), or Standard American Diet (SAD), increased the likelihood for high-risk distal adenomas (colon tumors found in the splenic flexure, descending colon, sigmoid colon) and rectal adenomas by a factor of 1.67. High-risk adenomas appeared most often in the distal colon and rectum, and they tended to be more aggressive and challenging to treat.

A Healthy Diet Can Decrease Colorectal Cancer Risk

The research team found the prudent diet and three other diets called the DASH diet, AMED diet and Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI-2010) diet were associated with a lower risk for early age-onset colorectal cancer.

DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet

The DASH diet reduces sodium intake and encourages various foods rich in nutrients such as potassium, calcium and magnesium that help lower blood pressure. The DASH diet is also low in total fat, saturated fat and trans fat.

The DASH diet encourages lots of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. It also includes some poultry, fish and legumes as well as a small amount of nuts and seeds a few times per week. The DASH diet allows for red meat, fats and sweets on special occasions.

For a 2,000 calorie-per-day DASH diet, these are the recommended servings for each food group:

  • 4-5 servings of fruit
  • 4-5 servings of vegetables
  • 6-8 servings of whole grains
  • 2-3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy
  • 6 one-ounce servings or fewer per day of lean meat, poultry or fish
  • 2-3 servings of fats or oils

Alternate Mediterranean Diet (aMED)

The Mediterranean diet encourages high intakes of fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains; a moderate intake of alcohol and dairy products; and low intakes of red or processed meats and sweets.

The aMED diet is a slight derivative of the Mediterranean diet that includes nine components (total vegetables excluding potatoes, total fruit, nuts, legumes, fish, whole grains, monounsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acid ratio, alcohol, and red and processed meat). The aMED diet highlights eating behaviors that are consistently associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases, including colorectal cancer.

Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI-2010)

The AHEI-2010 includes 11 components that should be consumed in high, moderate or low amounts.

 These foods should be consumed in high amounts:

  • vegetables
  • fruit
  • whole grains
  • nuts
  • legumes
  • long-chain omega-3 fatty acids

These foods should be consumed in low amounts or avoided:

  • red and processed meat
  • trans fat
  • sodium
  • sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit juice

This food should be consumed in moderate amounts:

  • alcohol

Schedule a Colonoscopy

A healthy diet is important in colon cancer prevention, but a colon cancer screening is just as essential. A colonoscopy is the best way to protect you from colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about when it is time to get your first colonoscopy.

Click here to locate a fellowship-trained gastroenterologist in your area and schedule a consultation.