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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

There's Something Fruits and Veggies Appear Not to Prevent

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Do these findings give you license to skip the broccoli and load up on donuts? You already know the answer is no, but the health officials contacted for this story wanted to make sure the point was made.

"The most important message that we want to get across is that these findings do not mean people shouldn't be eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables," Michels says. "Fruits and vegetables have definitely been found to be protective for a whole variety of diseases, such as [heart] disease, stroke, diabetes, and possibly other cancers. Certainly, fruits and vegetables are among the best food sources that we have."

"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.

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