People who report eating the most red and processed meat before being diagnosed with colon cancer are more likely to die during the next eight years, according to a new study.
While the new study does not prove eating red or processed meat - such as beef, hot dogs and sausages - causes colon cancer deaths, previous studies have found that eating the meat is tied to an increased risk of developing the cancer.
There's less evidence, however, on how people's diets after colon cancer diagnoses affect their chances of survival.
For the new research, U.S. researchers used data from a different study on 184,000 Americans who didn't have cancer between 1992 and 1993, and who were periodically asked about what they ate. The researchers had data on 2,315 men and women who were diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer between the start of the study and June 30, 2009.
Overall, 966 of them died between the start of the study and December 31, 2010.
The researchers found no link between how much red or processed meat a person ate after their diagnosis and their risk of death, but the amount of meat a person ate before their diagnosis was tied with their risk of dying during the study.
About 43 percent of the 580 people who ate about 10 servings of red or processed meat per week at the start of the study died during the follow up period. That compared to about 37 percent of the 576 people who ate about two servings per week.
The researchers also found that people who consistently ate more red or processed meat before and after their colon cancer diagnosis were more likely to die from that cancer during the study, compared to those who at the least before and after diagnosis.
It's possible that the link between red and processed meat and colon cancer comes from cancer-causing compounds found in cooked meat or preservatives.
"We're not saying people need to be vegetarians. It's really just limiting intake and making it more the exception than the rule," researchers said.
Maintaining a healthy weight, healthy diet and regular exercise likely has benefits for cancer prevention and survival.
Experts say we need more studies evaluating the impact of meat and other dietary factors on cancer survival before any recommendations can be made to cancer survivors.
Source: Journal of Clinical Oncology, online July 1, 2013.
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