The Link between Red and Processed Meats and Survival Rate of Colon Cancer Patients

Key Takeaways:

  • Patients with colon cancer who consistently consume significant amounts of red and processed meats have an increased mortality rate.
  • The lead researcher and her team’s study found that patients who ate at least 4-5 servings of red and processed meats per week before and after their diagnosis were 79% more likely to die from colon cancer than those who ate less.
  • Despite the findings, the study could not definitively prove that the increased meat consumption directly causes a higher mortality rate. The results are suggestive of some role played by red and processed meats in the overall health of colon cancer survivors.
  • Based on the study, cutting down on red and processed meat is advisable for colon cancer patients, alongside increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats found in vegetable oils.

New research suggests that colon cancer patients who persistently consume substantial amounts of red and processed meats could potentially have a higher mortality rate from the disease.

The findings, featured in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, don’t explicitly establish that the consumption of steaks and hot dogs directly influences survival rates in colon cancer patients. However, the study emphasizes the current dietary recommendations for all, including colon cancer patients: maintaining a healthful diet abundant in fruits and vegetables and low in red and processed meats.

The Research Findings

The lead researcher, Marjorie McCullough, from an undisclosed cancer research organization, and her team discovered more than 2,300 colon cancer patients. They found that those maintaining a high consumption of red and processed meats both pre and post their diagnosis had an escalated risk of dying from the disease.

Precisely, patients who had at least four to five servings per week prior to and post their diagnosis were 79 percent more likely to die from colon cancer than patients who consistently ate less. Furthermore, those patients with substantial red and processed meats appetites pre-diagnosis had an escalated risk of mortality from any cause, which includes heart disease or stroke.

Interpretation of the Results

However, it doesn’t definitively prove that the increased meat consumption is to blame. Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, a reputed cancer center’s staff in Boston, indicated, “It’s suggestive of some role for red and processed meats in the overall health of colon cancer survivors.” Regardless, Meyerhardt concurred with the idea of maintaining a healthful diet following a colon cancer diagnosis and ideally, throughout one’s life.

The findings analyzed more than 2,300 U.S. adults diagnosed with colon cancer that had not yet reached distant body areas. In the following seven and a half years, almost 1,000 patients died, with more than 400 from colon cancer itself.

A Deeper Look at the Study

All patients were part of a larger study on nutrition and cancer, regularly completing diet questionnaires pre their colon cancer diagnosis. Therefore, McCullough’s team had the opportunity to scrutinize people’s diet habits over time and correlate them with survival rates.

Pre-Diagnosis Eating Habits

Looking only at pre-diagnosis eating habits, colon cancer patients who consumed the most red and processed meats were 29% more likely to die during the study period. However, these were primarily deaths from heart disease or stroke. Only those who consumed a lot of red and processed meats both prior and post diagnosis, had greater risk of mortality due to colon cancer.

McCullough mentioned multiple studies present “convincing evidence” linking high consumption of red meats with increased risk of developing colon cancer. The reasons remain slightly elusive. However, Meyerhardt noted that both red and processed meats can produce certain carcinogenic chemicals that could potentially harm cells lining the colon.

Dietary Recommendations

Based on these findings, it seems reasonable for colon cancer patients who had been consuming a lot of red and processed meats to curtail their intake. As of now, it looks wise to cut down, although how much red meat is considered safe remains unanswered. But both Meyerhardt and McCullough mentioned that curtailing on steaks and lunch meat alone isn’t satisfactory.

“A healthy diet includes consuming copious plant foods,” McCullough advised. She recommended increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, for example those found in vegetable oils.

Additonal Information

For more information about colon cancer, you can visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute website.

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