Updated report supports links between bowel cancer and diet

In collaboration with Adfero

The latest analysis of research provides further evidence that eating too much red and processed meat can increase a person's risk of developing bowel cancer, UK scientists say.

World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has updated the bowel cancer section of its 2007 report - Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective.

According to the charity, the evidence linking red and processed meat to bowel cancer is greater than ever before.

In addition, experts say there is now 'convincing' evidence that fibre-containing foods, such as wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and pulses, may provide protection against the disease.

The update follows a systematic review of available evidence by scientists at Imperial College London, led by Dr Teresa Norat.

Researchers added a further 263 papers on bowel cancer to the 749 that were included in the original analysis for the 2007 report.

On the basis of the latest evidence, WCRF advises people to eat no more than 500g (cooked weight) of red meat - such as beef, lamb and pork - per week, and to avoid processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami and some sausages.

Eating an extra 100g of red meat per day appears to increase the risk of bowel cancer by 17 per cent, while eating an extra 100g of processed meat per day could increase a person's risk by 36 per cent.

Once again, the latest analysis found 'convincing' evidence that a physically active lifestyle reduces the risk of cancer of the colon (but not the rectum), and that excess body fat, particularly around the waist, is associated with an increased risk of the disease.

The researchers also found convincing evidence of a link between alcohol consumption and increased bowel cancer risk in men, and probably also in women.

Professor Alan Jackson, chair of the WCRF Continuous Update Project Expert Panel, said: "Our review has found strong evidence that many cases of bowel cancer are not inevitable and that people can significantly reduce their risk by making changes to their diet and lifestyle.

"Because our judgements are based on more evidence than ever before, it means the public can be confident that this represents the best advice available on preventing bowel cancer."

Professor Jackson added: "On meat, the clear message that comes out of our report is that red and processed meat increase risk of bowel cancer and that people who want to reduce their risk should consider cutting down the amount they eat."

Hazel Nunn, senior health information at Cancer Research UK, said: "With barbeque season just round the corner, this is a timely reminder that how much alcohol you drink, how active you are, your weight, and how much red and processed meat and fibre you eat can all have a bearing on your risk of bowel cancer.

"Along with attending bowel screening when invited, making healthy lifestyle choices is one of the best ways to help detect and prevent this common cancer, which kills over 16,000 people in the UK each year."