Dietary fiber and colon cancer: The pendulum swings (again)

Colon cancer takes the lives of more than 28,540 American men each year, almost as many as prostate cancer. And it kills nearly as many women, placing it second only to lung cancer on the list of cancer killers. It's a grim statistic, but there is a silver lining. Colon cancer deaths have been steadily declining, in large part due to major efforts at early detection.

Early detection and improved treatment certainly help, but prevention would be even better. Rapidly advancing research into the genetics of the disease holds great promise, but it is still far from clinical deployment. But you don't have to wait for breakthroughs in molecular biology to reduce your risk; act now.

The same lifestyle that promotes good general health has been associated with a reduced risk of many malignancies. In the case of colon cancer, people who exercise regularly, even if it's just walking 30 minutes a day, are about 50% less likely to get colon cancer than couch potatoes. And diet may be even more important. For one thing, an appropriately low caloric intake, along with exercise, will fight obesity, which has been linked to a sharp increase in the risk of colon cancer (see Table 1). And although the studies are not conclusive, other measures may also help, including a high consumption of calcium and vitamin D (low-fat dairy products, multivitamins, calcium supplements), a high consumption of folic acid (vegetables, multivitamins), and eating less animal fat and protein (red meat). Studies are supporting the long-held belief that low-dose aspirin therapy can also reduce the risk of colon cancer.

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