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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

Colon Cancer Rise Linked to Beef, Pork

Low-Vegetable Diet Increases Effects
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Nov. 15, 2002 -- A new study serves as good evidence that a western diet can more than double the risk of colon cancer. Researchers found that an increasingly western diet has led to a dramatic rise in colorectal cancer in Singapore. Rates of the cancer have doubled in the past three decades, largely because residents eat more red meat and fewer vegetables than in the past.

Singapore is one of Asia's most rapidly developing nations. And for many of the ethnic Chinese who make up 77% of the population, industrialization has brought both changes in diet and a more sedentary lifestyle. Colorectal cancer rates now approach those in developed countries and are among the highest in Asia.

To determine the influence of changing lifestyles on cancer rates, researchers from the National University of Singapore conducted interviews with 121 Chinese colorectal cancer patients and 222 healthy Chinese people. The findings appear in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal Cancer.

Researchers concluded that diet and a family history of colorectal cancer were the primary risk factors for the disease in the Chinese population. After accounting for all other risk factors, a high intake of red meat -- including beef and pork -- doubled the risk of colorectal cancer. No rise was seen for those reporting increased consumption of other meats or seafood. Eating vegetables was associated with a reduction in risk.

People who ate lots of red meat and few vegetables were more than 2.5 times more likely to get colon cancer. Eating lots of vegetables reduced the risk only slightly in those who also ate large amounts of red meat, but the risk was still almost double that of the healthy population. No other food groups -- including soy, legumes or fruit -- were found to have an impact on risk.

"Dietary intake of red meat in Western populations has been related to the risk of colorectal [cancer] in many, but not all, studies, and this appears to be independent of its contribution to total fat or protein content," lead researcher Adeline Seow, MD, and colleagues noted.

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