Diet and the prevention of colon cancer

Katrina Claghorn, MS, RD
Last Modified: February 10, 2002


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

What role does diet play in the prevention of colon cancer?


Katrina Claghorn, MS, RD, registered dietitian at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

There has been a great deal of research on the impact of nutrition on colon cancer. Despite all the studies there is still no definitive anti-colon cancer diet. Below is a list of nutritional factors that have been found to have the greatest potential for reducing colon cancer risk.

  • A high intake of dietary fat, especially saturated fats mostly found in animal sources, has been shown to increase the incidence of colon cancer. Red meat in particular has been associated with increasing risk. Include more fish, poultry and low fat dairy products in your diet.
  • Fiber was long considered an important preventive factor, however recent research has been conflicting. It is still wise to strive for at least 25 grams of fiber a day for general good health.
  • High levels of calcium have been associated with decreased polyp formation. While dietary sources of calcium are encouraged, calcium supplements were also found to be beneficial.
  • Folic acid acts to prevent damage to DNA, which can trigger the cancer process. While folic acid is found in dark green vegetables and dried beans and legumes, it is now added to enriched breads and cereals.
  • Some studies indicate that the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, as well as the mineral selenium may reduce the incidence of colon cancer. While the benefits of taking supplements of these nutrients are still being debated, adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet is advised.
  • Obesity is associated with increased risk of developing colon cancer. Try to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Regular exercise has also been found to be protective.