NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Lifestyle and Colon Cancer Risk

December 10, 2003

Lifestyle factors have a significant effect on the chances of developing colon cancer, say scientists.

Colon cancer is thought to arise from benign polyps that take years to become malignant.

  • About 10 percent to 20 percent of U.S. adults will develop advanced precancerous polyps in their lifetime.
  • About one-half to one-quarter of such growths will become cancerous if not removed.
  • Those who ate the most cereal fiber -- more than 8.1 grams a day -- were only about half as likely to have advanced polyps as those who ate the least.
  • Intake of vitamin D -- found in dairy products -- and use of aspirin and certain other pain-relievers (NSAIDs) also appeared to be protective.
  • Moderate physical activity and total calcium, total iron and multivitamin intake were found to be marginally protective.

Consumption of fruits and vegetables appeared to have no effect on the risk of developing advanced polyps.

Current smoking and moderate to heavy alcohol use were linked to a higher risk of advanced polyps. Genetics also appears to play a role: Having a parent, sibling or child with colon cancer was associated with increased risk of polyp development.

Source: Rita Rubin, "High-fiber diet may reduce colon cancer risk," USA Today, December 10, 2003; David A. Lieberman, Sheila Prindiville, David G. Weiss, and Walter Willett, "Risk Factors for Advanced Colonic Neoplasia and Hyperplastic Polyps in Asymptomatic Individuals," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 290, No. 22, December 10, 2003.

For JAMA abstract


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