Colorectal cancer CUP report: frequently asked questions

You’ve read our latest report on colorectal cancer, but you still have questions – get the answers here

​What did the report find?

Our new report found, for the first time, that eating three servings (90g) of wholegrains a day reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 per cent.


The report also confirmed that the following increase colorectal cancer risk:

  • Eating processed meat, such as bacon or salami (a 16% increase in risk per 50g of processed meat consumed a day)
  • Eating too much red meat, (over 500g cooked weight a week), such as beef or pork
  • Being overweight or obese. The risk increases by 5% per 5 BMI units.
  • Drinking two or more alcoholic drinks a day, such as two glasses of wine or two measures of spirit, increases bowel cancer risk by 7%

The report also found that being physically active decreases the risk of colon cancer.

What new findings did this report reveal?

Our report found strong evidence, for the first time, that eating wholegrains reduces your risk of bowel cancer. Risk decreases by 17% per 90g of wholegrains consumed – the equivalent of three servings, such as two slices of wholemeal bread and a bowl of brown rice. This adds to the evidence that eating foods containing fibre decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.

How was the analysis completed?

We collated and reviewed the scientific research available globally on bowel cancer, diet, weight and physical activity. We looked at 99 studies, covering 29 million people of whom a quarter of a million were diagnosed with bowel cancer.

What should people do to reduce bowel cancer risk?

There are several things people can do to reduce their bowel cancer risk. This includes eating more wholegrains, being physically active for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, avoiding processed meat and reducing red meat consumption, not drinking alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight.

How preventable is bowel cancer?

Bowel cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. In the UK alone about 45% of cases could be prevented by healthy lifestyle changes. In the US this is about 47% and in Brazil 41%.

Is it ok if people drink just two alcoholic drinks a day?

Though for bowel cancer our evidence showed an increased risk at two drinks when it comes to other cancers such as breast or oesophageal any amount of alcohol increases the risk. Therefore we would recommend that to reduce cancer risk as much as possible people should not drink alcohol at all.

Do dairy products and calcium supplements decrease bowel cancer risk?

Dairy products and calcium supplements were associated with a decreased risk of bowel cancer. However, we are not recommending consuming more dairy products or taking calcium supplements as our research shows there are indications they could increase the risk of prostate cancer.

When it comes to cancer prevention we do not recommend that people rely on supplements, you should aim to get the nutrition you need from your diet.

Your evidence on fibre and red meat has changed – why?

The evidence for fibre and red meat has changed slightly from our previous report. However, our scientists still judged this as strong evidence, so our recommendations remain the same for these factors.

Fish and vegetables had limited evidence of reducing bowel cancer risk – what does this mean?

The evidence on multivitamin supplements, Vitamin D, fish and vegetables, is limited, which means more research is needed before we can draw firm conclusions on whether they decrease bowel cancer risk. However, we do recommend people include vegetables and fish as part of a balanced healthy diet.

Multivitamins and vitamin D supplements had limited evidence for reducing bowel cancer risk – what does this mean?

The evidence on multivitamin supplements and Vitamin D is limited, which means more research is needed before we can draw firm conclusions on whether they decrease bowel cancer risk. For cancer prevention we don’t recommend that people rely on supplements, you should aim to get the nutrition you need from your diet, and during the spring and summer most people should get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight on the skin.