Large study confirms fibre reduces bowel cancer risk

In collaboration with the Press Association

Bowel cancer is less common among people who eat plenty of high-fibre foods such as cereal and whole grains, researchers from the UK and the Netherlands have confirmed.

As part of the Continuous Update Project - jointly run by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research - a team of scientists from Imperial College London, Leeds University and Wageningen University and Research Centre, Netherlands, analysed the overall findings of 25 studies involving almost two million people in total.

They found a clear, but small, correlation between an increased intake of fibre and a reduced risk of developing bowel cancer.

Around 1.2 million new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed each year. In the UK, bowel cancer affects more than 36,500 people every year. It is the second most common cancer in women and the third in men.

The researchers, writing in the BMJ, found that increasing the intake of fibre by 10g a day reduced the risk of bowel cancer by 10 per cent, when compared with a diet of almost no fibre. The same analysis found that an extra 90g of whole grains each day led to a 20 per cent risk reduction.

Foods that contain whole grains include oatmeal, brown rice, porridge and whole grain breads and cereals. These foods have long been associated with the prevention of bowel cancer, but research into an explanation for the link has yielded mixed results.

In an accompanying editorial, Professor Anne Tjonneland from the Danish Cancer Society called for further research into the biological mechanisms involved, in a bid to account for the associated benefits of the food.

Yinka Ebo, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This review adds weight to the evidence that fibre protects against bowel cancer. And it shows that certain sources of fibre, such as cereal and whole grains are particularly important.

"Eating plenty of fibre is just one of many things you can do to lower your risk of developing the disease, along with keeping a healthy weight, being physically active, cutting down on alcohol, red and processed meat, and not smoking."

Copyright Press Association 2011

References

  • Aune, D. et al. Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ 2011;343:d6617 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d6617