April 2 (UPI) -- If a woman avoids eating red meat, her risk of colon cancer is significantly reduced, according to a new study in Britain.
Researchers studied whether beef is associated with risk of colon and rectal cancer compared with poultry, fish or vegetarian diets. The findings were published Sunday in the International Journal for Cancer.
Previous studies have suggested that eating lots of red and processed meat increases risk for colorectal cancer but the researchers said there is limited available information about specific dietary patterns and where cancer occurred in the bowel.
Researchers found that regular eaters of red meat had higher rates of distal colon cancer compared with others. The cancer was found on the descending section of the colon, where feces is stored.
"The impact of different types of red meat and dietary patterns on cancer locations is one of the biggest challenges in the study of diet and colorectal cancer," Dr. Diego Rada Fernandez de Jauregui, a researcher in the Nutritional Epidemiology Group at University of Leeds and the University of the Basque Country in Spain, said in a press release. "Our research is one of the few studies looking at this relationship and while further analysis in a larger study is needed, it could provide valuable information for those with family history of colorectal cancer and those working on prevention.
Among women, colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths and the third most common cancer behind breast cancer and lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, 24,517 women died from the disease and there were 66,596 diagnosed.
The new study used data from the United Kingdom Women's Cohort Study, which included 32,147 women from England, Wales and Scotland. The World Cancer Research fund recruited them between 1995 and 1998, and tracked them for an average of 17 years. The median age of participants was 52 at the beginning of the study.
A total of 462 colorectal cases were found, including 335 colon cancers -- 172 were proximal and 119 were distal -- and 152 rectal cancers.
Among those studied, 65 percent were classified as red meat eaters, 3 percent were poultry eaters, 13 percent were fish eaters and 19 percent were vegetarians.
In the study, poultry eaters, fish eaters and vegetarian groups generally were younger, had a lower body mass index and were more physically active compared to red meat eaters.
Vegetarians showed the highest risk reduction compared to red meat eaters.
The researchers noted additional foods in the diet other than red meat may help decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, including milk and whole grains.
"Our study not only helps shed light on how meat consumption may affect the sections of the colorectum differently, it emphasizes the importance of reliable dietary reporting from large groups of people," said Dr. Janet Cade, a professor of nutritional epidemiology and public health at the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds and a co-author on the study.
"With access to the United Kingdom Women's Cohort Study we are able to uncover trends in public health and analyze how diet can influence the prevention of cancer. Accurate dietary reporting provides researchers with the information they need to link the two together."