Slacking Off Snacking May Keep Cancer Away

Lynch syndrome patient snacking patterns can affect their cancer risks

(RxWiki News) No denying it – we love our snacks – even though overloading on them is overloading us. And while no one would be hurt by less snacking, some folks can do themselves a huge favor by taming their snack attacks.

People with a condition that predisposes them to various cancers are smart to slack off on the snack food. A new study finds that eating a lot of processed stuff can increase risks of developing precancerous colorectal polyps in folks who have Lynch syndrome (LS).

And while eating fewer snacks won’t keep colon polyps (precancerous) from appearing, a diet low in processed foods could decrease the number of polyps that do develop, according to the authors.

This study confirms that healthy lifestyle choices make a difference, especially in people who have high cancer risks.

"Slack off the snacks."

People inherit Lynch syndrome. It’s a condition that makes the person more susceptible to various cancers, including those of the brain, gallbladder ducts, liver, stomach, small intestine, upper urinary tract, skin, prostate, endometrium (lining of uterus) and ovaries. It’s caused because some DNA repair genes are damaged.

Akke Botma, PhD, MSc, of the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and her colleagues, looked at how lifestyle choices affected colorectal cancer risks in people with Lynch syndrome. Dr. Botma’s team has worked with other risk factors for colorectal cancer among people with LS. The team supports the idea that even increased LS cancer risks can be managed with a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet.

For this study, researchers gathered information about the dietary habits of 486 people with Lynch syndrome and followed them for an average of 20 months. They meticulously organized 183 different foods into 83 different food groups. Based on their eating habits and patterns, study members were put into one of four groups the authors labeled – "Prudent," "Meat," "Snack" and "Cosmopolitan."

During that time, colorectal polyps, which are precancerous lesions, were detected in 58 (12 percent) of the participants.

"We saw that Lynch syndrome patients who had eating patterns with higher intake of snack foods—like fast food snacks, chips or fried snacks—were twice as likely to develop these polyps as Lynch syndrome patients having a pattern with lower intakes of snack foods," said Dr. Botma in a statement.

That doesn’t mean eating fewer snacks cures the condition. "Unfortunately, this does not mean that eating a diet low in snack foods will prevent any polyps from developing, but it might mean that those Lynch syndrome patients who eat a lot of snack foods might have more polyps than if they ate fewer snack foods.”

The authors concluded, “Although more research is needed to estimate the exact influence of dietary patterns on LS colorectal carcinogenesis, modifiable factors, such as diet, could influence development of colorectal neoplasms in LS.”

Because this was an observational study – meaning they observed behavioral patterns – more research will be needed to confirm the results.

This study was published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. The Dutch Cancer Society, the Wereld Kanker Onderzoeksfonds Nederland and the World Cancer Research Fund International supported this research.

One of the author serves as a member of the scientific board of Sensus, part of Royal Cosun (food industry). All other authors made no disclosures.

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Review Date: 
December 18, 2012