Did you know that a diet high in dairy might just increase colon cancer survival?
New research by the American Cancer Society, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, reveals that a diet rich in dairy products may slightly prolong the lives of people diagnosed with colon cancer.
Researchers collected data on roughly 2,300 people diagnosed with colon cancer between 1992 and 2009 – those that had not seen their cancer spread beyond the colon. By 2010, 949 patients in the study had died – 408 from their cancer. Yet those who ate the most dairy, receiving the highest amount of dietary calcium, lived a little longer. In addition, those who drank the most milk experienced a 28 percent lower risk of dying from any cause altogether.
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Researchers say that the calcium in dairy is what’s most beneficial, not necessarily the vitamin D. They also suggest that calcium may hinder the growth of cancer cells, not to mention their settlement in places far away from the original cancer.
“If you are a colorectal cancer patient, calcium and milk consumption may improve your survival,” lead researcher Peter Campbell, of the American Cancer Society’s epidemiology research program, told Health Day News.
“If our findings are replicated in future studies, we may see changes in dietary guidelines for cancer survivors: patients might be encouraged to increase calcium and milk intake.”
Colon cancer develops slowly over time
So what’s colorectal cancer exactly? Well, it’s a cancer that begins in the colon or the rectum. Most colorectal cancers develop slowly over a period of time. Before a cancer develops, though, a growth of tissue – or tumor – typically begins as a non-cancerous polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. A tumor is abnormal tissue and can be benign or malignant.
If cancer forms in a polyp, it can eventually begin to grow into the wall of the colon or rectum. And when cancer cells find their way to the wall, they can then develop into blood vessels or lymph vessels. The latter are thin, tiny channels carrying away fluid and waste.
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First, they drain into nearby lymph nodes, which are shaped like a bean and contain immune cells that help fight against infections. Once cancer cells spread into blood or lymph vessels, they can travel to nearby lymph nodes or even to distant parts of the body, like the liver. This kind of spread is called metastasis.
Unfortunately, several types of cancer can start in the colon or rectum. Adenocarcinomas is one of them, representing an estimated 95 percent of all colorectal cancers. This type starts in cells that form glands, and these make mucus to lubricate the inside of the colon and rectum. When doctors talk about colorectal cancer, this is what they refer to most.
Cancer diets for longevity?
Of course, more research into cancer diets high in dairy still needs to be conducted. For one thing, the American Cancer Society study only showed a link between dairy and survival. It couldn’t prove that dairy consumption was the direct cause of increased longevity. Also, it may not be valuable to look at milk alone because study participants who drank the most milk happen to be the leanest, too. They completed the most physical exercise while eating less red meat and far more fruits and vegetables.
In other words, it’s the whole diet – not a single component – that may make all the difference for people living with cancer.