In September 2017, we published our latest report on bowel cancer, as part of our Continuous Update Project (CUP).1

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK. However, it’s also one of the most preventable – scientists estimate that about half of cases could be prevented if everyone followed our Cancer Prevention Recommendations.

Our new report is based on evidence from over 29 million people, nearly 250,000 of whom have been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Be a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of bowel cancer as well as ten other cancers. The risk increases by five per cent per 5 BMI (body mass index) units.

Be physically active

Our research re-confirms that physical activity reduces your risk of colon cancer. Adults should aim to be moderately physically active for a minimum of 30 minutes a day and avoid sitting for too long.

Drink less alcohol

There’s evidence that drinking alcohol increases bowel cancer risk. The report found that consuming 10g of ethanol per day increases your risk of bowel cancer by seven per cent. For cancer prevention, it's best not to drink alcohol. If someone chooses to drink, they should limit alcoholic drinks and follow national guidelines.

Eat less red meat and avoid processed meat

Our research found a 16 per cent increase in risk per 50g of processed meat (such as ham, bacon and chorizo) consumed a day. There’s also strong evidence confirming that eating red meat increases bowel cancer risk too. World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendation is to eat little, if any, processed meat and no more than 500g (cooked weight) of red meat a week.

Eat more wholegrains and foods containing dietary fibre

Our report found that eating three servings (a total of 90g) of wholegrains each day such as brown rice or wholemeal bread reduces the risk of bowel cancer by 17 per cent. This adds to the evidence that eating foods containing fibre decreases the risk of bowel cancer.

Other findings

The report found strong evidence that consuming dairy products such as milk may reduce bowel cancer risk. However, we don’t make any recommendations about this as dairy products may influence other cancers differently. We also found some evidence that eating fish protects against bowel cancer, but we need more research before we can make any recommendations about fish consumption.

Read the full report.


1. World Cancer Research Fund International. Colorectal Cancer. 2017.