Lowering Colorectal Cancer Risk with Diet and Lifestyle

Research finds processed meats such as hot dogs increase risk while whole grains lower the risk.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in both men and women in the U.S. and research shows an alarming rate of increase among younger adults over more than a decade. Experts at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) report that diet and lifestyle are among important factors that impact the incidence of colorectal cancer.

“The younger and younger age bracket in which we see rates increasing is really troubling. We cannot just watch these rates go up and ignore the factors that we already know are contributing to these increases,” says Dr. Nigel Brockton, Vice President of Research at AICR. “However, we do not yet know what exactly is causing the increased rates among younger adults. It is one of the growing areas of research.”

For colorectal cancer overall, scientists know that maintaining a healthy body weight, being physically active, limiting red and processed meat, limiting alcohol consumption and eating more whole grains and fiber can help prevent colorectal cancer. There is strong evidence that people who are physically active have a lower risk of colon cancer compared to those who do very little physical activity.

“Colorectal cancer is one of the cancers for which we know that the risk can be significantly reduced by modifying diet and lifestyle. Strong scientific evidence shows eating three servings of whole grains daily (90 grams), such as brown rice, oatmeal and barley, reduces colorectal cancer risk by 17 percent, the more you eat the lower the risk,” says Dr. Christine Molmenti at Feinstein Institute for Medical Research at Northwell Health.

Dr. Molmenti’s research is focused on primary and secondary prevention of colorectal cancer through screening/early detection and lifestyle. She says, “the increase in colorectal cancer in younger adults is likely the result of many intermingling factors, both modifiable and unmodifiable. It is a scientific conundrum, one that we continue to investigate.”

Factors found to increase colorectal cancer include:

  • Eating more than 18 ounces of red meat per week, such as beef and pork.
  • Having overweight or obesity (body mass index of 25 or higher).
  • Consuming alcohol such as wine, beer, or spirits. Risk for colorectal cancer increases at 2 drinks daily. One alcoholic drink is considered 14 grams of alcohol. This translates to 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or 12 ounces of regular beer.

Factors found to lower colorectal cancer include:

  • Eating at least three or more servings of whole grains daily.
  • Eating little, if any processed meat such as, bacon, hot dogs, and deli/luncheon meats.
  • Engaging in regular physical activity of all types – occupational, household and recreational.
  • Filling your plate with predominantly plant-based foods.
About AICR

Our Vision: We want to live in a world where no one develops a preventable cancer.

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

We have contributed over $108 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. Find evidence-based tools and information for lowering cancer risk, including AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, at www.aicr.org.