By EJ Mundell
Numerous studies have linked a high intake of red meat to colon cancer. In fact, guidelines from the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund International, released in September, recommended that people limit their intake of red meat to just over a pound per week to lower colon cancer risk.
In the new study, researchers tracked data on more than 32,000 women in the United Kingdom who were followed for an average of 17 years.
During that time, 335 cases of colon cancer were diagnosed, including 119 cases of distal colon cancer, which occurs in the descending section of the colon, where feces is stored.
Women who regularly ate red meat were more likely to develop distal colon cancer than those who did not eat red meat, according to the research team led by Diego Rada Fernandez de Jauregui, of the Nutrition Epidemiology Group at the University of Leeds.
Two experts in the United States noted that while the study had its flaws, the findings could give guidance to people concerned about cancer risk.
The research couldn't prove cause and effect, but "multiple studies have already highlighted that long-term consumption of red meat or processed meats are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, particularly for left-sided or distal tumors, and this study does uphold this," said Dr. Elena Ivanina. She's a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Ivanina said that even though the study didn't control for certain factors -- the women's use of supplements or cancer-fighting aspirin, for example -- it "does positively reinforce the importance of a meat-free diet in preventing colorectal cancer."
And colon surgeon Dr. Nathaniel Holmes stressed that when it comes to preventing these cancers, "a low-fat, high-fiber diet is recommended."
Beyond that, "smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity are all associated with increased risk of colon and rectal cancer," said Holmes, who practices at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City.
The study was published April 2 in the International Journal of Cancer.