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Can The Foods You Eat Affect Your Colorectal Cancer Risk ? - Myths Debunked

March is colorectal cancer awareness month, and it is on the rise. Colorectal cancer is one of the more severe forms of cancer, being the second most common cause of cancer-related death (1). It is the third most common cancer in women - 1 in 23 women develop colorectal cancer in the United States.

Unknowingly, many people have certain lifestyles that increase their colorectal cancer risk, like a low fiber and high in processed meat diet, or drinking too much alcohol (2). Today, we will be busting 3 myths about colorectal cancer.

Myth #1: Diet Doesn’t Matter

Of course what you eat matters! Researchers have noticed how certain diets can put someone at an increased risk of colorectal cancer (3). Diets that mainly have red and processed meat, refined carbohydrates, and sugar-sweetened beverages contribute to the development of colorectal cancer (4). Bacon and eggs seem perfect for a family breakfast on the weekends. When ironing clothes or meal prepping for tomorrow, late-night snacks, like crackers, can be a convenient choice. Also, cookies or chocolate treats are often used to relax after a long day. Though these foods appear harmless, they are examples of what a pro-inflammatory and cancer-promoting diet look like (5). Because these foods have so little fiber, they encourage the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut (i.e Escherichia). Though small, these harmful bacteria play a big role in how cancer forms in the body by turning regular digestive juices, called bile, into a toxic acid that ignites the light gas for cancer cell growth (6).

Myth #2: Smoking and Alcohol Do Not Increase My Risk

Life can be stressful, ranging from lack of self-care to unmanageable life events. Smoking may bring relief, in the moment, but its consequences can come back to haunt many decades later in their lives. One study showed that people who gave up smoking for 25 years still had a higher risk of getting colorectal cancer than those who never smoked (7). For alcohol, people who drink more often have a higher risk of colorectal cancer (3). One explanation is that alcohol can weaken the gut barrier and cause toxins from bacteria to cross into our bloodstream, leading to massive inflammation (8). It is understandable to feel overwhelmed when stressed, so why not cope with activities that can give you peace of mind. Yoga has been shown to boost the mood of those with depression, and can be a refreshing girl’s night out (9). When your kids almost get the best of you, deep breathing mindfulness can maintain your cool (10).

Myth #3: Genetics Do Not Matter

Younger and older people have different risks of colorectal cancer. The same is true for men and women. These differences show that genetics has a great impact on colorectal cancer risk. 25% of people who are 45 years old develop tumors that are caught by a doctor during a colonoscopy, but this percentage rises to more than 50-60% by 85 years old (11). Also, percentages of detected tumors are higher in men than women (12). Even though colorectal cancer risk differs among people, everyone should get tested for it by age 45 years. Testing should be regularly done between 45 to 75 years. If someone has inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colorectal cancer, they may need to get tested even before the age of 45 years (13). 

Want The Truth About Colorectal Cancer and Diet? There is more...

For many, changing lifestyle habits can be challenging. Making small incremental changes to reduce colorectal cancer risk adds up and can potentially improve the quality and quantity of ones life. Let our Holistic Women’s Health and Wellness, Registered Dietitian Sue-Ellen Anderson Haynes help you make long lasting, and attainable lifestyle changes. Learn more about the services that she offers.


  1. Siegel RL, Wagle NS, Cercek A, Smith RA, Jemal A. Colorectal cancer statistics, 2023. CA Cancer J Clin. 2023;73(3):233-254.

  2. What are the risk factors for colorectal cancer? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Reviewed Feb 23, 2023. Accessed Mar 3, 2024.

  3. Song M, Chan AT. Environmental Factors, Gut Microbiota, and Colorectal Cancer Prevention. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019;17(2):275-289.

  4. Feng YL, Shu L, Zheng PF, et al. Dietary patterns and colorectal cancer risk: a meta-analysis. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2017;26(3):201–11.

  5. Barber C, Mego M, Sabater C, et al. Differential Effects of Western and Mediterranean-Type Diets on Gut Microbiota: A Metagenomics and Metabolomics Approach. Nutrients. 2021;13(8):2638.

  6. O’Keefe SJ, Li JV, Lahti L, et al. Fat, fibre and cancer risk in African Americans and rural Africans. Nat Commun. 2015;6:6342.

  7. Gong J, Hutter C, Baron JA, et al. A pooled analysis of smoking and colorectal cancer: timing of exposure and interactions with environmental factors. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2012;21(11):1974–85.

  8. Mutlu EA, Gillevet PM, Rangwala H, et al. Colonic microbiome is altered in alcoholism. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012;302(9):G966–78.

  9. Cramer H., Lauche R., Langhorst J., Dobos G. Yoga for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Depress Anxiety. 2013;30(11):1068–1083.

  10. Kuppusamy M., Kamaldeen D., Pitani R., Amaldas J., Shanmugam P. Effects of Bhramari Pranayama on health–a systematic review. J Tradit Complement Med. 2018;8(1):11–16.

  11. Kuntz KM, Lansdorp-Vogelaar I, Rutter CM, et al. A systematic comparison of microsimulation models of colorectal cancer: the role of assumptions about adenoma progression. Med Decis Making 2011;31(4):530–9.

  12. Corley DA, Jensen CD, Marks AR, et al. Variation of adenoma prevalence by age, sex, race, and colon location in a large population: implications for screening and quality programs. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2013;11(2):172–80.

  13.  Colorectal (Colon) Cancer: What Should I Know About Screening? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Reviewed Feb 23, 2023. Accessed Mar 22, 2024.