Avoid Colorectal Cancer By Reducing Red Meat Consumption

Red meat intake linked to colorectal cancer risk
cows laying in a field looking at the camera
(Vax Before Cancer)

A recent paper published by JNCI Cancer Spectrum indicates that several non-genetic factors such as excessive red meat intake and heavy alcohol use are associated with increased colorectal cancer (CRC) in people under 50.

The increase in early-onset colorectal cancer concerns researchers because these cancers often have worse outcomes than those diagnosed in older people.

Using data pooled from 13 population-based studies, these researchers reported on May 20, 2021, early-onset CRC was associated with not regularly using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (odds ratios (OR) = 1.43, 95% CI = 1.21 to 1.68), greater red meat intake (OR = 1.10, 95% CI = 1.04 to 1.16), lower educational attainment (OR = 1.10, 95% CI = 1.04 to 1.16), alcohol abstinence (OR = 1.23, 95% CI = 1.08 to 1.39), and heavier alcohol use (OR = 1.25, 95% CI = 1.04 to 1.50). 

When evaluating risks by anatomic subsite, they found that lower total fiber intake was linked more strongly to rectal (OR = 1.30, 95% CI = 1.14 to 1.48) than colon cancer (OR = 1.14, 95% CI = 1.02 to 1.27; P = .04).

According to Richard Hayes, Professor of Population Health and Environmental Medicine NYU Langone Health, the senior investigator for this research stated in a press release, "This first large-scale study of non-genetic risk factors for early-onset colorectal cancer is providing the initial basis for targeted identification of those most at risk, which is imperative in mitigating the rising burden of this disease."

Previous research has outlined potential risk factors for early-onset colorectal cancer, including greater consumption of processed meat, reduced consumption of vegetables and citrus fruit, greater body mass index, sedentary lifestyles, greater alcohol use, smoking, reduced aspirin use, and diabetes.

Researchers have observed the rise particularly among people born since the 1960s in studies from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan. 

During the same period, there have been significant changes in diets among younger generations across the developing world. Such changes include decreases in consumption of fruits, non-potato vegetables, and calcium-rich dairy sources. 

This is coupled with increased processed foods (e.g., meats, pizza, macaroni, and cheese, etc.) and soft drinks. Average nutrient intakes of fiber, folate, and calcium among the U.S. population are also lower than recommended.

Nearly 18,000 people under the age of 50 will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year in the United States, said Rebecca Siegel, M.P.H., of the American Cancer Society (ACS). 

But the disease is still relatively rare, affecting far less than 1% of younger adults.

Some groups have been hit by the rising trend more than others. For instance, although people of all races can develop colorectal cancer at a young age, the spike has been chiefly seen among Alaska Natives, American Indians, and Whites reports the ACS.

As of May 18, 2021, a few medical organizations have lowered the recommended age to start colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45.

This work was funded by the National Cancer Institute under R03-CA215775-02, awarded to Dr. Richard Hayes, and through the Genetics and Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer Consortium (GECCO) funded by the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services (U01 CA164930, R01 CA201407), awarded to Dr. Ulrike Peters. This research was funded in part through the NIH/NCI Cancer Center Support Grant P30 CA015704 and training grant T32HS026120 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 

Vax-Before-Cancer publishes research-based cancer news.