Healthier diets may improve quality of life and lower depression after bowel cancer

11 March 2020

New research funded by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) network shows that dietary interventions can improve the quality of life of, as well as lower depression in, bowel cancer survivors.

The study was carried out by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Birmingham, UK. It shows that people who ate less red and processed meat and refined grains after their cancer treatment had a better quality of life after 12 months than those who did not receive the intervention and instead had “usual care”. They also had significantly lower levels of depression.

“Usual care” consisted of receiving five leaflets on healthy lifestyles in the post over 12 months. The intervention included a mix of face-to-face meetings, motivational phone calls, newsletters, group meetings and information leaflets specific to how motivated each person was to change their behaviour.

223 people were included in the research, and they had varying stages of bowel cancer from 1 to 4. Both general quality of life and cancer-specific quality of life, such as levels of pain and fear of dying from their illness, were measured.

Dr Anna Diaz Font, Head of Research Funding at WCRF, said: “As more and more people are surviving cancer thanks to improved treatments and earlier diagnosis, it becomes increasingly important to find ways to help people live well after a cancer diagnosis. This research may be small, but it’s a great place to start and shows that we need to provide more support for people even after their cancer treatment has ended. We know that diet is linked to cancer risk, but it’s encouraging that it may also help people have a better quality of life after cancer.”

The lead researcher, Dr Judy Ho, said: “Our research shows that a structured intervention with a focus on eating healthier, by reducing red and processed meat consumption and eating more wholegrains, can alleviate depression and improve quality of life in bowel cancer patients who have just completed cancer treatment. Next steps and future research should apply these dietary interventions to longer-term studies, and, crucially, look at how diet affects cancer recurrence.”


For more information and media enquiries contact Maxine Lenza, Senior Press and Communications Officer at WCRF, on 020 7343 4235 or

Notes to editors

Funded by WCRF’s Netherlands office, Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds. World Cancer Research Fund is part of a network of cancer charities with a global reach, dedicated to the prevention of cancer and cancer survival through a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and being more physically active. We cut through the jargon to turn the latest global research on cancer prevention and survival into practical, straightforward advice and information, helping anyone who wants to reduce their risk of developing cancer to make fully informed lifestyle choices.