Eating fish may lower risk of bowel cancer

Eating more fish could reduce your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer, according to new research published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology which looked at the dietary patterns of nearly half a million people

Eating more fish could reduce your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer, according to new research published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology which looked at the dietary patterns of nearly half a million people.

The new study, which was funded by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), followed 476,160 people for 15 years from all over Europe*. Previous research by WCRF only found limited evidence that consuming fish may be linked with a reduced risk of bowel cancer but this new study provides stronger evidence that we should all be eating more fish.

The study found that those who ate more than three portions of fish a week had a 12% lower risk of developing bowel cancer compared to those who ate less than one portion a week**. Current UK diet guidelines suggest eating at least two portions of fish a week.

Dr Marc Gunter, the lead researcher from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), said: “Our research shows that eating fish appears to reduce the risk of bowel cancer and should be encouraged as part of a healthy diet.

“One down fall of the study is that dietary data collected from participants did not include information on fish oil supplement intake. This unmeasured fish oil supplementation may also have an effect on bowel cancer, so further studies will be needed to see if fish or fish oil influence bowel cancer risk.”

Dr Anna Diaz Font, Head of Research Funding at WCRF, said: “This large study adds to the scientific evidence suggesting that consuming fish could reduce the risk of bowel cancer. The biological reasons by which fish consumption potentially lowers risk are not fully understood but one of the theories include specific fatty acids such as omega-3, found almost exclusively in fish, being responsible for this protective effect via their anti-inflammatory properties.”

The authors of the study attempted to test this hypothesis and so also looked at intake of omega-3 in the participants diet and the same correlation was observed; higher omega-3 in the diet reduces the risk of bowel cancer. This supports the theory that omega-3 may be responsible for the potential protective effect of fish against bowel cancer. The study found no link between eating shellfish alone and bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the cancer with the second highest death rate. In 2015, 43,178 cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed. Around 40% of all cancer cases could be prevented if everyone had healthier lifestyles, this includes being a healthy weight, doing more exercise and eating a balanced diet.

For more information and media enquiries contact: Maxine Lenza, Press and Communications Officer at WCRF on 020 7343 4235 or m.lenza@wcrf.org

Notes to editors:

* Study participants came from Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

** A typical portion of fish is 100g. Eating more than 51.3g of fish a day (359.1g a week) was associated with a 12% decreased risk of bowel cancer compared to those we ate less than 9.07g of fish a day (63.49g a week).

*** To reduce your risk of cancer, follow our Cancer Prevention Recommendations:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise more
  • Eat more fruit, veg, beans and grains
  • Avoid junk food
  • Don’t eat processed meat and limit red meat to three portions a week
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Don’t drink sugary drinks
  • Don’t rely on supplements
  • If you can, breastfeed your baby
  • Don’t smoke and be safe in the sun

About World Cancer Research Fund

World Cancer Research Fund is one of the world’s leading cancer prevention charities, and the only UK charity dedicated to funding life-changing research into the prevention of cancer through diet and lifestyle. 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.

Find out more: www.wcrf-uk.org

About International Agency for Research on Cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization. The objective of the IARC is to promote international collaboration in cancer research.

Find out more: www.iarc.fr