Saturated Fats, Intestinal Cancer Linked

Diet High in Saturated Fat Increases Chances of Developing Cancer in the Small Intestine

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 13, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 13, 2008 -- If you eat a lot of saturated fat, you may be more at risk for cancer of the small intestine, according to a new study.

Saturated fat, considered one of the unhealthy fats, typically comes from animal foods, such as meat and dairy. Cheese, sausage, and butter are all high in saturated fat.

The study, published in Cancer Research, looked at data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Researchers analyzed data on 294,707 men and 199,293 women. Participants, all members of the American Association for Retired Persons, were first evaluated in 1995 through a questionnaire. They were asked about their diet. The study followed them through 2003 or until they were diagnosed with cancer or died.

During the median follow-up time of 7.5 years, 165 small intestine cancers were diagnosed.

The study found a link between high intakes of saturated fats and carcinoid tumors of the small intestine. About 35% of cancers of the small intestine are carcinoid tumors, the researchers cite. Researchers also examined how different subgroups of saturated fats (such as red meat and dairy products) affect the risk of this type of cancer. Although a diet high in red meat slightly elevated the risk, it was not significant.

This finding should not be taken as a reason to gobble up burgers and bacon for dinner. Authors note that past research has positively linked red meat to many other kids of cancer, including colorectal cancer and cancers of the stomach and the esophagus.

Although still relatively rare, the rate of small intestine cancer has been rising since the 1970s. People with this type of cancer are at an increased risk of developing a secondary cancer, such as colorectal cancer.

"Identifying modifiable risk factors for cancer of the small intestine is important not only because the incidence of this cancer is on the rise, but it may enable us to further understand other gastrointestinal malignancies," says Amanda Cross, a National Cancer Institute researcher and the study's lead author.