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Good news at a good time

Mar 18, 2015 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. This not-easy-to-discuss disease is a leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States—so perhaps we’d better find a way to put our embarrassment aside and learn some essentials:

  • Colorectal cancer accounts for nearly 10 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S.
  • One in three adults aged 50 to 75 are not up-to-date with recommended colorectal screening.
  • The median age of diagnosis is 69 years old.
  • One in 20 men and women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
  • African Americans are more likely to develop colorectal cancer. This may be partially attributed to the fact that screening rates are lower than average in this group, so they are more likely to be diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other organs.
  • Each year, colorectal cancer treatment costs the U.S. $8.4 billion.

Recent discoveries, however, may help us all beat the odds.

Researchers at Loma Linda University Health have found that eating a vegetarian diet was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer compared with non-vegetarians in a study of Seventh-Day-Adventist men and women. (The group is ideal for such a study—approximately 35 percent of Seventh Day Adventists practice vegetarianism.) The findings were described in an article published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine.

Among the 77,659 study participants, researchers found 380 cases of colon cancer and 110 of rectal cancer. Compared with non-vegetarians, vegetarians had a 22 percent lower risk for all colorectal cancers; 19 percent lower risk for colon cancer and a 29 percent lower risk for rectal cancer.

The report notes that although great attention has been paid to screening, primary prevention through lowering the risk factors remains an important objective. Dietary factors have been identified as a “modifiable risk factor” for colorectal cancer, including red meat, which is linked to increased risk, and food rich in dietary fiber, which is linked to reduced risk.

--Sarah Hagerty
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