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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

Wine May Reduce the Risk of Colon Cancer, Even in Smokers

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Stephen Holland, MD, a staff gastroenterologist at the Christie Clinic in Champaign, Ill., who was not involved in the study, tells WebMD that beer drinkers are likely to be "very different than wine drinkers or vodka drinkers in reporting their consumption." Holland says that when his patients fill out history forms, "beer drinkers will routinely say they don't drink, because they don't admit that beer drinking is drinking." For that reason, Holland suggests that the "group identified as 'grain drinkers' may be consuming much higher levels of alcohol, and that could increase their risk."

While Anderson agrees there is some room for error in the study, he points out that "these are people who came in for screening colonoscopy, so by that very action they are likely to be more health-conscious and not as likely to abuse alcohol."

In fact, that "health-conscious" characteristic of the study participants may prove to be a factor that knocks out the wine association, Anderson says. "I'm betting that as we refine these data, we may find that what we are really seeing is the influence of healthy diet," he says. "I think it is possible that those who exercise more, and who are eating diets that are low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables, may also be wine drinkers."

Harris Clearfield,MD, a professor of medicine at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia, tells WebMD that he, too, is cautious about jumping to any conclusions. Clearfield was not involved in the study, but he says "many studies have suggested one food or another as a way to prevent cancer or lower the risk of cancer. I know the American public is anxious to find that food."

Clearfield says that he worries that the search for this magic bullet to prevent cancer may lead people to overlook the "very real preventive measure that we have -- screening colonoscopy. Look, here we are taking our case to HMOs and other insurers to get them to pay for colonoscopy, and then people will think, 'Oh, I'll just drink a little wine, and then I won't need to get a colonoscopy.' I don't want anything to increase the public resistance to this exam."

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