Focus on bowel cancer

| 21 May 2024
minute reading time
Burger in a bun

Processed meat linked to bowel cancer in under-50s

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer globally and there has been a concerning rise in the incidence rate, especially in developed countries. Scientists looking at diet found that people under 50 years diagnosed with bowel cancer were more likely to eat higher amounts of processed meat and lower amounts of fruit and vegetables compared to those diagnosed over the age of 50.


Swapping meat for plants reduces risk of bowel cancer

This study, including over 40,000 Finnish people, found that replacing 100 grams of red meat a week with an equal amount of wholegrains, fruits or vegetables was linked to a reduced risk of bowel cancer. Even replacing just 50 grams of processed meat a week with fruits and veg also reduced the risk.


Beans reduce risk of bowel cancer

This review of 14 studies found pulses (peas, beans and lentils) could protect against bowel cancer. Just one or two portions a week lowered the risk of this disease by 21 and 32 per cent respectively compared to those who never eat pulses. Adding an extra portion lowered the risk by a further 13 per cent. According to the authors, it’s hard to say exactly why pulses reduce the risk of bowel cancer as they contain so many anti-cancer compounds, including fibre, B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, zinc, tannins, flavonols, isoflavones, phenolic acids and phytic acids etc.



  • Burnett-Hartman AN, Ton M, He Q et al. 2024. Dietary factors differ between young-onset and older-onset colorectal cancer patients. Nutrition and Cancer. 76 (4) 352-355.
  • Tammi R, Kaartinen NE, Harald K et al. 2024. Partial substitution of red meat or processed meat with plant-based foods and the risk of colorectal cancer. European Journal of Epidemiology. Epub ahead of print.
  • Patel L, La Vecchia C, Negri E et al. 2024. Legume intake and cancer risk in a network of case-control studies. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Epub ahead of print.

About the author
Dr. Justine Butler
Justine joined Viva! in 2005 after graduating from Bristol University with a PhD in molecular biology. After working as a campaigner, then researcher and writer, she is now Viva!’s head of research and her work focuses on animals, the environment and health. Justine’s scientific training helps her research and write both in-depth scientific reports, such as White Lies and the Meat Report, as well as easy-to-read factsheets and myth-busting articles for consumer magazines and updates on the latest research. Justine also recently wrote the Vegan for the Planet guide for Viva!’s Vegan Now campaign.

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