By Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD
Healthnotes Newswire (September 3, 2009)—What we eat, how much we exercise, our use or avoidance of alcohol and tobacco, and whether or not we are obese or have diabetes all appear to play large roles in cancer risk, and this is especially true for colorectal cancer. Now researchers have examined more than 100 studies on this topic to come up with an idea of just how strongly these factors are related to risk.
Rating the risks
A process called meta-analysis was used to combine and analyze data from 103 previous studies. The advantage of this approach is that it allows for large numbers of people to be studied together. The more people in a study, the more likely it is that relationships between causes and effects will be discovered, if they exist.
The study revealed that:
• Heavy drinkers had 56% higher risk of colorectal cancer compared with light and nondrinkers.
• Smokers had 16% greater risk of colorectal cancer than people who never smoked.
• People consuming the most red and processed meat had around a 20% higher risk of colorectal cancer than people consuming the least of these foods.
• People classified as obese—having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kilograms per meter squared (kg/m2) or higher (in other words, being roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy body weight), had 40% higher risk of colorectal cancer compared with people with a BMI of 25 kg/m2 or less (considered to signal a healthy body weight).
• People who were the most physically active had 20% lower risk of colorectal cancer compared with people getting the least physical activity.
• People with diabetes had a 23% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer as compared with people without diabetes.
Putting the choices together
This study supports what many health experts have long known: Of all cancer types, cancers of the colon and rectum are among the most strongly related to everyday health choices. A good portion of risk is within our control. To put these results to work in your life, try the following:
• Drink alcohol only in moderation or not at all. This means no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, with a drink being 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
• If you smoke, quit. If quitting on your own is too difficult, a wide range of supports have helped many other people. Ask your doctor about nicotine replacement, smoking cessation programs, and medications that will increase your odds of quitting for good.
• Limit red and processed meat to no more than 3 ounces per day, three to five days per week, Try fish, chicken, beans, tofu, and other choices instead of meat.
• Make regular physical activity a part of your day and focus on keeping your body weight in a healthy range. Both of these actions will help you avoid diabetes, and if you already have this disease, keep it under good control.
All of these health habits build on one another and can become a regular part of your life when you make your own health a priority—something we all deserve to do!
(Int J Cancer 2009;125:171-80)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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