A group of researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute published a report stating that the “Western Diet,” high in red meat, refined grains, fatty products and desserts, might increase the odds of early death and disease relapse in colon cancer patients. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study enrolled 1,009 patients who were diagnosed with stage III colon cancer and who had received both surgery and chemotherapy. The results demonstrated that those patients who ate a Western diet were in fact three times more likely to have colon cancer recurrence than those who had alternative diets.
“We know from previous research that diet and lifestyle influence people’s risk of developing colon cancer. This is the first large observation study to focus on the role of diet in recurrence of the disease. Our results suggest that people treated for locally advanced colon cancer can actively improve their odds of survival by their dietary choices,” study’s first author Jeffrey Meyerhardt said in a news release.
Patients who enrolled in the study received chemotherapy and had surgical removal of their tumors within the first two months of the trial, and they reported specific information related to their diets during the chemotherapy period.
Two major trends were identified: a pattern the authors called “prudent,” in which patients had high intakes of vegetables and fruits, fish and poultry; and a “Western” pattern linked to high amounts of processed red meats, desserts and sweets, refined grains and French fries. Participants could not be included completely in one of these categories, but they were scored to evaluate how close they were to those standard models.
Even after some variables were accounted for, such as age, gender, body mass, physical activity level and degree of cancer spread to lymph nodes, the pattern remained constant: those without Western diets had survival benefits. Researchers do not know exactly why this diet is associated with poorer outcomes, but they hypothesize it could be related to the increased levels of insulin and other similar growth factors.
On the other hand, a prudent diet did not seem to significantly alter cancer recurrence or mortality. “The message is that patients in this category can improve their prospects by avoiding certain foods,” concluded Dr. Meyerhardt.