Colorectal Cancer Loves Red Meat, Fish and Sugary Drinks

Colon cancer risks spike with diets that increase C-peptide and insulin levels

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) You know the saying "you are what you eat." When it comes to colorectal cancer, what a woman eats can increase her risks.

A 22-year study finds that women are at greater risk of colorectal cancer when they eat a diet rich in red meat, fish, sugary drinks and low in coffee, whole grains and high-fat dairy foods. Being overweight and inactive adds to these risks.

"You can't go wrong by adding vegetables and fruits to your diet."

A diet heavy with red meat, fish and sugary drinks is associated with higher blood levels of C-peptide, a marker of insulin secretion.

Teresa T. Fung, S.D., R.D., professor of nutrition at Simmons College in Boston, explains higher insulin levels drive cells to grow and multiply more. And since cancer is characterized by wild cell growth, higher levels of C-peptide and insulin could fuel cancer growth.

Fung says that colon cancer seems to be one of the forms of the disease that's sensitive to insulin.

For this study, Fung and colleagues surveyed a number of women every two years regarding general health status, including if they had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

These women were separately questioned about their diets every two years and asked how often they consumed 130 different food types.

After tracking these women for 22 years, 985 were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 758 developed colon cancer.

Research indicated that women who regularly consumed high amounts of red meat, fish and sugared beverages, along with low amounts of high-fat dairy, coffee and whole grains had a 35 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer, compared with women who did not practice this diet.

Fung says they found that women who were overweight and inactive tended to be more sensitive to this way of eating. And their risk was "much higher" than lean and active women, she said.

She adds that overweight people are already at higher risk of insulin resistance. This diet, which is  linked to higher C-peptide levels, increased those risks and the women were more likely to develop colorectal cancer.

Fung concludes that people should pay attention to what they eat for a variety of health reasons.

This research was presented at the 10th American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, held Oct. 22-25, 2011.

Research is considered preliminary before it's published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 11, 2011
Last Updated:
November 16, 2011