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Western Pattern Diet Linked to Recurring Colon Cancer

Worldwide statistics show that colon cancer kills more than 600,000 people every year. Now, a new study confirms that diet can play a powerful role in treatment. VOA's Melinda Smith has details.

Fifty-five year old John Coughlin looks like the picture of health. And he thought he was -- until a routine colonoscopy revealed he was in stage three of colon cancer. Stage three means that tumor cells have spread to other organs and lymph nodes near the colon. "I went through six weeks of concurrent radiation and chemotherapy. In December of that year I had major surgery to remove the lower part of my colon and that was followed by six months of weekly chemotherapy."

At least 1,000 colon cancer patients like John Coughlin were part of a study that compared their diets. All were in stage three of the disease. Researchers followed their progress to see whether the cancer came back or whether the patient died. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study's author, Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts found that cutting back on red meat, for example, has a powerful effect. "It's not really increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables, but really trying to reduce the amount of red meat intake and fatty foods and sugary 'desserty' [sweet desserts] foods, that seems to be protective for colon cancer recurrences and survival."

The high fat diet chosen by many people in developed countries -- and a growing number of those living in developing countries -- is called the Western Pattern Diet. In the study, those cancer patients who ate fattening foods had almost four times the risk of reoccurrence or death.

Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt adds, "The biggest surprise is actually the impact that a western pattern diet seems to have."

Patients who switched to greater quantities of fruits, vegetables, poultry and fish appeared to fare better.

Dr. Meyerhardt issues a note of caution for those patients diagnosed with colon cancer. Improving your diet can help, he says, but getting good medical treatment is critical. "Patients with colon cancer still should have surgery and discuss with their physicians about their need for chemotherapy after surgery. This is really an additional step patients can consider -- who have colon cancer -- to improve their outcome."

Eating more fish, chicken, and grains such as brown rice has been an easy decision for John Couglin. "To cut down from one steak a week to one steak a month is not a big deal."

VIideo courtesy of Journal of the American Medical Association