Preliminary results from the world's largest-ever study of the role of diet in the development of cancer confirm a link between the consumption of red meat and colorectal cancer. The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) has enrolled nearly half a million persons in nine nations in Western Europe over the last 9 years in an attempt to find nutritional and lifestyle causes for Europe's widely fluctuating cancer rates.
The first round of results from the study will not be available until April of next year. But early data presented here last week at the annual meeting of the American Institute for Cancer Research show that red meat consumption is significantly associated with an elevated risk of intestinal tumors. Among 385 patients with colon cancer, the risk of cancer was increased by 40% in people with the highest intake of meat consumption, while the risk was reduced by 40% in people with the highest intake of vegetables.
The study will look at the influence of smoking, drinking, and exercise on cancer, as well as the effect of over 300 different foods. Participants are being asked to keep detailed records of what they eat, and the results will be backed up with blood samples that can be tapped for biomarkers of food intake and DNA for genetic testing.
Researchers have already noticed large regional fluctuations in several dietary components thought to influence cancer risk. For instance, fatty acids found in fish are more than three times as abundant in the blood of people from Denmark as in the blood of people from Oxford, England. Study subjects in Naples have twice the levels of lycopene, a natural plant chemical associated with prostate cancer, than that found in residents of northern Spain.
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