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Health and Medicine for Seniors

Going vegetarian offers way for seniors to lower risk of colorectal cancer

Senior citizens making great progress against this deadly cancer due to more having colonoscopies

Doctors giving good news to cancer patientMarch 9, 2015 - A good way for seniors to avoid colorectal cancer – the number two cancer killer in the U.S. among cancers – is to eat a vegetarian diet, says a study of Seventh - day Adventist published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Colon cancer incidence rates have dropped 30 percent in the U.S. in the last 10 years among adults 50 and older due to the widespread increase of colonoscopy, with the largest decrease being in senior citizens over age 65.


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Although great attention has been paid to screening, primary prevention through lowering risk factors is also an important objective.

Dietary factors have previously been identified as a way to lower the risk factor for colorectal cancer. Eating red meat, for example, is linked to increased risk. On the other hand, food rich in dietary fiber is linked to reduced risk, according to the study’s background information.

The researchers measured the incidence of colorectal cancer among those who are some form of vegetarian diet and or vegan diet and those that were nonvegetarians or nonvegans.

Vegetarians, generally, avoid eating meat, fish or poultry, although there are variations; for example pollo-vegetarians eat poultry but not other meats. Vegans do not eat any animal or insect products.

Among 77,659 study participants, Michael J. Orlich, M.D., Ph.D., of Loma Linda University, California, and coauthors identified 380 cases of colon cancer and 110 cases of rectal cancer.

Vegetarians compared with nonvegetarians had a –

  ● 22 percent lower risk for all colorectal cancers,

  ● 19 percent lower risk for colon cancer and

  ● 29 percent lower risk for rectal cancer.

The risk for colorectal cancer for vegans compared with nonvegetarians was

16 percent lower.

For lacto-ovo vegetarians (eat milk and eggs) the risk was 18 percent lower.

The pescovegetarians (eat fish) had 43 percent less colorectal cancer risk.

The semivegetarians, had an 8 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer.

“If such associations are causal, they may be important for primary prevention of colorectal cancers. … The evidence that vegetarian diets similar to those of our study participants may be associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, along with prior evidence of the potential reduced risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and mortality, should be considered carefully in making dietary choices and in giving dietary guidance,” the study concludes.

Support for the research was from grants by the National Cancer Institute and World Cancer Research Fund.

>> The research report.

Colon Cancer Information for Patients by American Cancer Society



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