A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that former colon cancer patients who most closely follow to the Western diet have a higher risk of dieing or having their cancer recur. The typical Western diet consists of red meat, processed meat, high sugar intake, fried food, refined grains, and fats. Numerous studies done in the past conclude that such a diet contributes to an increased risk of colon cancer. However, this study is one of the first to look at the Western diet’s impact on the survival of patients treated for the disease.
The study involved more than one-thousand patients treated for stage III colon cancer between 1999 and 2001. All patients were treated using both chemotherapy and radiation. Researchers asked the patients to fill out questionnaires about their diet during and six months following treatment. Based on this information, the researchers were able to come up with two major dietary habits that the patients followed: the Western diet and a diet high in fruits, vegetables, poultry, and fish called the “prudent” diet.
Researchers followed the patients for five years. In that time, 324 of the patients experienced colon cancer recurrence. Of these patients, 223 died. Researchers found that the patients who followed the Western diet were 3.5 times more likely to experience cancer recurrence or death than those who followed the “prudent” diet. The researchers found no link between the “prudent” diet and an increase in cancer recurrence or death.
The findings of the study have yet to be confirmed. However, researchers are suggesting that doctors speak with their patients about the importance of diet when it comes to colon cancer. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, one of the researchers from the study, told WebMD, “Doctors who treat colon cancer patients need to have the conversation about diet. From my own experience I know that patients ask about this a lot. They want to know what they should be eating and whether they should be exercising. But it is hard to give recommendations without firm data.”
Because this was an observational study, it is impossible to determine cause and effect. In other words, further research needs to be done to determine if there is a direct link between the Western diet and colon cancer recurrence and death. According to American Cancer Society spokesman Michael Thun, MD, “We test many, many different drug combinations to treat cancer, but researchers are only now beginning to concentrate on diet and other lifestyle changes that can potentially affect the prognosis and survival of cancer patients,” he told WebMD. “We can’t say with certainty that improving [colon cancer] survival is one of them, but it is worth finding out,” he says.
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