There's Something Fruits and Veggies Appear Not to Prevent
"Even if we were absolutely sure that fruits and vegetables weren't relevant to colon cancer, they continue to be very relevant for many other chronic diseases," Andrew Flood, MD, a researcher with the National Cancer Institute, tells WebMD. Flood wrote an editorial accompanying the study, arguing that more study is needed to determine whether fruit and vegetable consumption plays a role in colon cancer risk.
"I think what is happening is that our understanding of what is going with regard to nutrition and cancer continues to evolve," Flood says. "We have not really had the answers, but the public has gotten the impression that we did, and that's why so many findings seem to contradict each other. It is a very complicated process, and we are still working on the answers."
So if fiber, fruits, and vegetables aren't the answer, what can you do to protect against colon cancers? The best evidence suggests that getting plenty of exercise and avoiding obesity, smoking, and too much alcohol all play a role. Studies also have linked the consumption of red meat to increased risk of colon cancer, and calcium intake has been suggested to decrease risk.
But detecting precancerous conditions and early cancers through screening may be the most important single step you can take to avoid being among the roughly 56,000 people who die of the disease in the U.S. each year, experts say. It is widely recommended that people over the age of 50 undergo yearly fecal occult blood testing, which can be done at home. Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is done in a doctor's office, also is routinely recommended once every five years for this age group and for people with a family history of the disease.
"We have many common lifestyle factors in this country that contribute to our incidence of colon cancer, such as obesity, lack of exercise, and smoking," Minneapolis gastroenterologist John H. Bond, MD, tells WebMD. Bond is chief of gastroenterology at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "A healthy diet and lifestyle is probably important, but these studies suggest that with colon cancer, you can't rely on that. Screening is critical."