Bowel cancer survival diet link 'inconclusive'

In collaboration with the Press Association

US research has found that people with bowel cancer who eat a 'western' diet containing lots of red meat, fatty products, refined grains and puddings may be increasing their risk of the disease coming back, providing yet more evidence of the benefits of a healthy diet.

However, Cancer Research UK pointed out that the results were inconclusive as the study only followed participants' diets over a six month period.

The research, conducted by scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, looked at 1,009 patients whose bowel cancer had started to spread, and who had been treated with surgery and chemotherapy.

People in the study were required to report what they ate during the period they were receiving chemotherapy and for six months after finishing their treatment.

Publishing their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers reveal that patients who ate a western diet were three and a half times more likely to see their disease return than those who ate mostly fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish.

Lead author Dr Jeffrey Meyerhardt, who is also assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that although previous research has revealed that diet and lifestyle can influence people's risk of developing bowel cancer, this was the first large observation study to focus on the role of diet in recurrence of the disease.

Martin Ledwick, information nurse manager at Cancer Research UK, said that more work was needed before any firm conclusions could be drawn.

"The study does not make it clear whether the participants had made any changes to their diet after their diagnosis. Therefore it is possible that what people ate during their lives before treatment might also have affected their outcome," he pointed out.

Mr Ledwick noted that dietary patterns were only recorded for six months following treatment and that other factors not recorded in the study may have affected the patients' outcome.

He concluded: "The study raises some interesting questions which it would be useful to research further."