Diet may help prevent colon cancer recurrence

Published: Aug. 15, 2007 at 5:56 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 28, 2007 at 2:29 AM EDT
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NATIONAL (NBC) - More than 30,000 Americans will be diagnosed with stage three colon cancer this year. Stage three means the cancer is present in the colon and lymph nodes.

Obviously, patients who undergo treatment don't want the cancer to come back. A new study says diet could play a role in recurrent cancer and survival.

John Coughlin, 55, has always been strong and fit. That strength came in handy in 2003, when a regular colonoscopy revealed he had stage three colon cancer. "I went through six weeks of concurrent radiation and chemotherapy. In December of that year I had major surgery to remove the lower part of my colon and that was followed by six months of weekly chemotherapy."

As you'd imagine, after that, John would do a lot to stay healthy. Turns out what he eats, or doesn't eat, could really help.

Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says, "It's not really increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables but really trying to reduce the amount of red meat intake and fatty foods and sugary, 'desserty' foods, that seems to be protective for colon cancer recurrences and survival."

That higher fat diet Dr. Meyerhardt describes is called a Western pattern diet.

He and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute studied that pattern in colon cancer patients. Their findings appear in JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Meyerhardt says, "The biggest surprise is actually the impact that a Western pattern diet seems to have."

Stage three colon cancer patients who ate high amounts of a Western pattern diet were about times more likely to have recurrent cancer, or to die, compared to patients who ate less of those types of foods. Dr. Meyerhardt says, "People who have a higher Western pattern diet have an increased risk for recurrence but that doesn't mean people who have very little of a Western pattern diet have no chance for recurrence. It's just relatively, it's an additional thing to improve people with colon cancer's outcomes."

The study says improved outcomes are more likely if stage three colon cancer patients eat the way John does - lots of fish, chicken, brown rice, and less Western pattern foods, like red meat. For Coughlin, "To cut down from one steak a week to one steak a month is not a big deal."

The researchers studied eating patterns, cancer recurrence and survival among about 1,000 stage three colon cancer patients who were undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle