Finding a link between fish and bowel cancer

One of our research projects hit the headlines after a significant discovery about how eating fish can reduce bowel cancer risk

A very large study funded by World Cancer Research Fund, which looked at nearly half a million people, found that those who ate at least three portions of fish a week had a lower chance of developing bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the cancer with the second highest death rate. In 2015, more than 43,000 cases of bowel cancer were diagnosed, so it's vital that we fund research on this cancer to prevent as many people as possible from developing this disease. Around 40 per cent of all cancers could be prevented if we all lived healthier lives such as moving more, not smoking, staying out of the sun, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

Evidence on Mediterranean diet

The research was carried out at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, and was funded by World Cancer Research Fund.

Dr Anna Diaz Font, our Head of Research Funding, says: “We thought it was very important that we fund this study as we don't yet have the full picture on how fish and cancer are linked.”

This research seems to support previous evidence that eating a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of cancer and other diseases. A Mediterranean diet is generally defined as a diet rich in plant-based proteins such as nuts, lentils and beans, wholegrains, fish and monounsaturated fats – also known as ‘good fats’, such as olive oil. This diet also has a low intake of refined grains such as white bread or white rice, red meat and sweets. Traditionally it's also associated with moderate to high levels of physical activity, but this diet is not actually consumed in most countries around the Mediterranean any more.

How does fish lower bowel cancer risk?

We don’t know exactly how consuming more fish lowers our cancer risk, but one of the theories includes specific fatty acids such as omega-3, found almost exclusively in fish, being responsible for this protective effect via their anti-inflammatory properties.

Why don't we have a Cancer Prevention Recommendation about fish? Well, we need to do more research to confirm the evidence that eating fish lowers the risk of bowel cancer. We also need to check that it does not increase the risk of any other cancers. Could you help us discover more about this link? There are so many different ways to donate – and some of them are even free to you!

Are you getting enough of the scaly stuff?

A survey we conducted found that nearly two-thirds of Brits (64%) are eating fish only once a week or less. And perhaps more worryingly, the survey found that people with children between the ages of 5–11 eat even less fish, with only 25 per cent in this group having fish twice a week or more. It's vitally important that children learn how to have a balanced diet, as habits formed as children are likely to stick with them as adults. Check out our tips on getting kids to eat more fish.

We have lots of free, healthy and delicious recipes on our website, all of which are based on our Cancer Prevention Recommendations, so you know they’re scientifically backed and you can trust them. Here are all the ones that contain fish! We can only fund research and produce this content with help from people like you, so thank you to everyone who has donated.