The Meat of Cancer Survival

Colorectal cancer mortality linked with high red and processed meat consumption

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

(RxWiki News) It's well-known that a person's diet can affect the risk of developing cancer. But what about diet after a cancer diagnosis — does that matter?

A recent study showed that people who ate more red and processed meats before and after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer had a higher risk of dying than those who did not eat as much meat.

This finding suggests that having a healthy diet throughout life can pay off in the long-run, especially when a person is faced with cancer.

"Eat less red and processed meat."

The study was led by Majorie McCullough, ScD, RD, a researcher in the American Cancer Society Epidemiology Research Program.

The researchers were looking to see how red and processed meat consumption before and after a colorectal cancer diagnosis affected mortality (death risk).

This study was based on diet information provided by participants in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort, including 2,315 individuals diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Surveys were completed at the time of enrollment in 1992 and 1993. Subsequent questionnaires were completed in 1999 and 2003.

Those who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer were followed through December 2010.

During the follow-up period, 413 survivors (17.8 percent) died of colorectal cancer, and 173 (7.4 percent) died from heart disease.

The researchers found that survivors who ate larger amounts of red and processed meats before a colorectal cancer diagnosis had a 29 percent higher risk of dying from any cause than people who did not consume as much of these meats.

These individuals also had a 63 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to people who ate less red and processed meats.

There was no increased risk of colorectal cancer-specific deaths associated with meat consumption following the cancer diagnosis.

However, higher red and processed meat consumption before and after diagnosis was linked to a 79 percent increased risk of cancer-related death.

"This study showed that higher intake of red and processed meat was associated with greater mortality in men and women diagnosed with invasive, non-metastatic colorectal cancer," Edward Giovannucci, MD, ScD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, told dailyRx News.

"The benefit was largely due to a reduction from cardiovascular disease death, which is common in colorectal cancer survivors," said Dr. Giovannucci, who was not involved in the study.

In an accompanying editorial, Jeffrey A. Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, Clinical Director, Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said, "[A]lthough a message that prediagnosis diet influences outcomes may seem to have limited utility for a patient when they develop cancer, it furthers the strength of the recommendation for people to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle throughout their life to maximize the health benefits."

This study was published July 1 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 5, 2013
Last Updated:
July 30, 2013