BOWEL cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in developed countries but occurs much less frequently in the developing world. A high fat diet, particularly high in saturated fat, can increase a person’s risk of developing bowel cancer. In addition to the high content of saturated fat, the ‘typical’ Western diet contains only low levels of calcium and other minerals.
Using his £157,973 grant from AICR, Professor James Varani and his team at the University of Michigan, in the USA, are investigating whether calcium in conjunction with other trace minerals might be more effective in preventing bowel cancer than calcium alone.
Dr. Varani explained: "Previous studies have suggested that an increased intake of calcium can reduce the growth of precancerous polyps in the bowel. We are expanding on these findings and investigating whether increasing the levels of calcium, in conjunction with other important minerals, can help prevent the development of bowel cancer more than treating with calcium alone."
"The link between diet and cancer is a difficult topic to research as we all eat such a wide variety of foods in lots of different amounts. We know that a diet low in fibre but high in red and processed meats like sausages increases the risk of bowel cancer.
"Fruit and vegetables give us most of our fibre, vitamins and minerals and in general a diet rich in fruit and vegetables seems to be associated with a lower risk of bowel cancer. However, many people do not eat the recommended ‘5-a day’ when it comes to fruit and vegetables and the ‘typical’ Western diet contains only low levels of calcium and other minerals."
Dr Lara Bennett, AICR's Scientific Communications Manager said: "If these findings do indeed show that higher levels of calcium and additional trace minerals are able to prevent bowel cancer then consuming foods high in calcium like milk could be another easy way to help reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Limiting the amount of alcohol you drink and the amount of red and processed meant in your diet, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, taking regular moderate exercise and not smoking also helps reduce your risk.
"Each year around 1.24 million new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed and 90% of these will survive the disease for more than five years if diagnosed at the earliest stage. Despite this high survival rate it sadly still kills more than 600,000 people, more than half of which are in the more developed countries in the world. In the UK alone, around 110 new cases are diagnosed each day and it is the third most common cancer after breast and lung.
"In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a national bowel cancer screening programme is in place and if 60% of those invited to take part did so, deaths from bowel cancer in the UK over the next 20 years could be cut by up to 20,000."