Healthy Lifestyle May Cut Colorectal Cancer Risk

Good Diet, Exercise, Other Lifestyle Changes May Lower Colorectal Cancer Risk by 23%

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on October 26, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 26, 2010 -- Following a healthy lifestyle, which means exercising, eating healthfully, keeping the waistline trim, limiting alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking, could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 23%, according to a study from Denmark.

Researchers led by Helene Kirkegaard at the Institute for Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen, Denmark, evaluated data on 55,487 men and women aged 50 to 64 who had not been diagnosed with cancer. The patients were followed for nearly a decade up to 2006. During the study period, 678 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Healthy Habits Add Up

The participants all answered surveys about their health habits, including smoking, diet, exercising, and drinking alcohol. Healthy lifestyle recommendations included avoiding smoking; eating a healthy diet; being physically active at least 30 minutes a day; drinking no more than seven alcoholic drinks per week for women and 14 drinks per week for men; and having a waist circumference of no more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.

The researchers found that:

  • When participants followed all five healthy lifestyle recommendations, they cut their risk for colorectal cancer by 23%.
  • Only 1% of the group scored the highest on the healthy lifestyle index, meaning that they consistently followed all of the healthy lifestyle recommendations.
  • People who scored highest on the healthy lifestyle index ate more dietary fiber, fruits, and vegetables and less processed red meat than people who scored the lowest.
  • An estimated 13% of colorectal cancer cases might have been avoided if participants had complied with just one additional healthy lifestyle recommendation.
  • The association between lifestyle and colorectal cancer was more pronounced in men than in women, though the reason for this is unclear.

The findings are published in this week’s online edition of BMJ.

Growing Body of Evidence

These latest study results echo the findings from other studies showing an association between living a healthier lifestyle and a reduced risk for colorectal cancer.

“Colorectal cancer is predominantly a disease of Westernized countries, indicating that components of a Western lifestyle may contribute to risk,” Kirkegaard and the team write in the journal article. “Our study reveals the useful public health message that even modest differences in lifestyle might have a substantial impact on colorectal cancer risk and emphasizes the importance of continuing vigorous efforts to convince people to follow the lifestyle recommendations.”

According to the American Cancer Society, every year in the United States there are 102,900 new cases of colon cancer and 39,670 new cases of rectal cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined; an estimated 51,370 deaths are expected to occur as a result of colorectal cancer this year. The overall lifetime risk for developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 19 for men and 1 in 20 for women.

Show Sources


Kirkegaard, H. BMJ, published online Oct. 27, 2010.

American Cancer Society.

Moore, H. Surgical Oncology Clinics of North America, Oct. 19, 2010; vol 4: pp 693-710.

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