Men who eat ready-to-eat instant meals – especially those that contain meat – are at a significantly increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, a new study finds.
Researchers at Harvard University and Tufts University, both in the Boston, Massachusetts area, found that men who ate the most ultra-processed foods were at a 30 percent increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. There was no correlation found among women.
Meals that contained meat were found to be the worst for a person’s health, including meals featuring sausage, bacon, ham and fish cakes. High consumption of sugary drinks and sodas also increased a person’s cancer risk.
Consumption of processed foods has long been linked to many short and long-term health problems, though these findings may be the most jarring for those that often opt for quick T.V. dinners.
Regularly eating ultra-processed foods can increase a man’s likelihood of developing colorectal cancer by nearly 30%, though no increased risk was found among women
Researchers, who published their findings Wednesday in BMJ, gathered data from over 200,000 participants from across 25 years for the study.
Each was questioned on how often they ate each of 130 foods. Participants were placed into quintiles based on how often they consumed ultra-processed goods.
Over the 25-year period, 1,294 cases of colorectal cancer were detected among the 46,341 men in the study, and 1,922 among the 159,907 women.
Getting a colonoscopy every 10 years could save your life from colorectal cancer
What is a coloscopy?
A colonoscopy is an exam that detects abnormalities and changes in the large intestine and in the abdomen.
How is it performed?
Patients are either sedated or, in rare cases, given general anesthesia, to dull the amount of pain they feel.
A long, flexible tube is inserted into the rectum. A tiny video camera is attached to the tip so the doctor can view the inside of the colon.
If necessary, the doctor can remove polyps or other types of abnormal tissue, as well as take tissue samples.
A colonoscopy will generally take about 30 to 60 minutes.
How do I prepare the day before a colonoscopy?
Doctors recommend that patients eat low-fiber foods that are easy to digest starting three to four days before the colonoscopy.
The day before the procedure, patients are not allowed to eat anything solid and can only consume clear liquids.
The night before the colonoscopy, patients have to take laxatives to make sure the digestive tract is clear.
When should I get a colonoscopy?
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults between ages 45 and 75 get screened for colon cancer.
Patients between ages 75 and 85 are recommended to speak to their doctors about when to get a colonoscopy.
If the colonoscopy doesn’t find any signs of cancer, it should be done every 10 years.
Why is it important to get a coloscopy?
Aside from skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S.
An estimated 104,270 new cases of colon cancer and 45,230 new cases of rectal cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2021.
It is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in men and in women, separately, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths when men and women are combined with 52,980 deaths expected in 2021.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society
The enormous sample combined with the long period of time has researchers more confident in their results than they would be other cancer studies.
‘Cancer takes years or even decades to develop, and from our epidemiological studies, we have shown the potential latency effect—it takes years to see an effect for certain exposure on cancer risk,’ said Mingyan Song, co-senior author of the study and epidimeologist at Harvard, in a statement.
‘Because of this lengthy process, it’s important to have long-term exposure to data to better evaluate cancer risk.’
Among men, they found a clear correlation between people who ate more of the foods and whether they developed the condition.
They highlighted the meat based products in particular, which is also what they say they expected going into the study.
‘We started out thinking that colorectal cancer could be the cancer most impacted by diet compared to other cancer types,’ said Dr Lu Wang, the study’s lead author, in a statement.
‘Processed meats, most of which fall into the category of ultra-processed foods, are a strong risk factor for colorectal cancer.
‘Ultra-processed foods are also high in added sugars and low in fiber, which contribute to weight gain and obesity, and obesity is an established risk factor for colorectal cancer.’
While the risk factors have been known, the stark affect that these foods of a person’s risk of cancer are jarring.
Many Americans regularly eat ultra-processed foods because of their convenience. Some are even branded as healthy alternatives that can help a person lose weight and manage other dietary conditions.
Also as expected, researchers found a strong correlation between consuming sugary beverages and the cancer as well.
Not all processed foods were found to be a negative, though. Women who consumed processed dairy foods actually had a slight decrease in colorectal cancer risk.
‘We found an inverse association between ultra-processed dairy foods like yogurt and colorectal cancer risk among women,’ Fang Fang Zhang, co-senior study author and a cancer epidemiologist at Harvard, said in a statement.
‘…Foods like yogurt can potentially counteract the harmful impacts of other types of ultra-processed foods in women.’
A similar correlation was not found among men in the study, though.
Whether there are actual gender differences in how the body processes these foods or there is some other variable researchers are missing is still yet to be determined.
‘Further research will need to determine whether there is a true sex difference in the associations, or if null findings in women in this study were merely due to chance or some other uncontrolled confounding factors in women that mitigated the association,’ Song said.