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The popular drink linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer – new evidence ‘convincing’

Dr Hilary Jones discusses bowel cancer awareness acronym

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Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second biggest cancer killer. It begins when cancerous cells divide and multiply uncontrollably in the large bowel. The exact cause of bowel cancer is unknown. However, research has shown several factors may make you more likely to develop it. A recent study tied alcohol consumption to an increased risk of bowel cancer and the association was strong.

The finding was the result of systematic review published in the journal JAMA.

Researchers sought to assess how “credible” the evidence linking dietary factors to bowel cancer is.

They sifted through published meta-analyses of prospective observational studies (a prospective study watches for outcomes, such as the development of a disease).

After conducting the review, the researchers found “convincing evidence” that alcohol consumption increased risk of bowel cancer.

Specifically, the researchers found four or more alcoholic drinks a week was associated with an increased bowel cancer risk.

“The evidence for convincing associations remained robust following sensitivity analyses,” they observed.

The study is consistent with previous findings. An older study found an increased risk of bowel cancer for those who are drinking one drink (or 10g of alcohol) a day, which includes light alcohol drinkers.

The study also found that the risk increases with the amount consumed and that for moderate drinkers the relative risk was higher for men than for women.

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The fact that there was a slightly higher risk for men than for women could be because we break down alcohol differently depending on our gender.

What’s more, a study published in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)5 established a clear link between drinking more than 30g of alcohol a day (3.75 units or around one and a half regular glasses of 13 percent wine) and bowel cancer.

Other risk factors

Many studies have shown that eating lots of red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

It is estimated that around 13 out of 100 bowel cancer cases (around 13 percent) in the UK are linked to eating these meats.

Processed meat is any meat that has been treated to preserve it and/or add flavour – for example, bacon, salami, sausages, canned meat or chicken nuggets.

The Government recommends that people eating more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce it to 70g or less.

According to Cancer Research UK, eating lots of fibre also reduces your risk of bowel cancer.

“Eating too little fibre causes around 30 in 100 bowel cancer cases (around 30 percent) in the UK,” reports the charity.

You can boost the fibre in your diet by choosing whole grain versions of foods.

  • To get more fibre in your diet try:
  • Swapping to brown rice, pasta or bread
  • Swapping your snack to low calorie popcorn rather than crisps
  • Choosing wholegrain breakfast cereals
  • Eating more fruit and vegetables high in fibre, such as peas and raspberries.

You should also try to keep a healthy weight because “obesity is a cause of bowel cancer”, adds Cancer Research UK.

Obesity means being very overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

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