It was only in the past few decades that research found diet plays a role in preventing colon cancer. Now, a study suggests that colon cancer patients whose diets are relatively low in starchy foods and carbohydrates have a lower risk of recurrence and death compared to those eating a high carb diet.
The findings were published online yesterday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The study builds on the authors’ earlier research that observed a link between an overall pattern of eating and recurrence among colon cancer patients. That study found patients who ate the most fats, meats, carbs and sugary desserts — a Western diet — were three times more likely to have their cancer recur compared to those whose diets were least Western.
The current study focused on teasing apart which part of the Western diet might most contribute to the effect.
In the new study, approximately 1,000 patients with advanced colon cancer reported their diet during and six months after their treatment. The authors tracked patients’ carbohydrates, fructose, and glycemic load – a measure of how quickly blood sugar rises after eating a food.
Foods that lead to a high glycemic load include pizza, cakes, and white breads. A higher glycemic load generally leads to increased production of insulin, and high insulin levels may play a role in the development of colon cancer.
Researchers categorized participants into one of five categories, depending upon how much they consumed and their glycemic load.
After seven years, patients who consumed the most carbohydrates had an 80 percent higher risk of cancer recurring or death compared to those who consumed the least. The results were similar when comparing participants with the highest glycemic load to the lowest.
When weight was taken into account, the study found that it was only among patients who were overweight or obese that glycemic load linked to higher risk of recurrence.
More research is needed, note the authors, but this adds to the evidence suggesting that eating a healthy diet can make a difference for colon cancer patients and survivors.