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Could Red Meat, Sugar be Linked to Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer?

Cleveland Clinic researchers uncover a possible culprit for the recent rise in young-onset colorectal cancer. The lead study author comments.

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CLEVELAND – For years, doctors have noticed an alarming rise in colorectal cancer in people under the age of 50 but they’re not sure what’s causing it.

Now, Cleveland Clinic research has uncovered a possible culprit.

“The way we use our carbohydrates to make our energy; the way we use proteins and amino acids from our diet and other exposures, it was really a very strong relationship with cancer incidence,” said Suneel Kamath, MD, gastrointestinal oncologist at Cleveland Clinic and senior author of the research. “It’s really something that’s not been described before in colorectal cancer at all.”

Dr. Kamath and his team studied samples of metabolites, which are substances created when the body breaks down food.

Results show people younger than age 50 with colorectal cancer had lower levels of citrate, compared to older people with colorectal cancer. Citrate is created when the body converts food into energy.

They also found important differences in protein and carbohydrate break-down, which could suggest that red meat and sugar intake may be related to developing colorectal cancer at a younger age.

Dr. Kamath said more research is needed, but there’s enough evidence to suggest it’s a good idea to reduce red meat and sugar in your diet.

“Certainly, limiting red meat consumption for sure. We’ve known that as a risk factor for colorectal cancer for a long time. And so, I would certainly say our data supports that,” Dr. Kamath explained. “Additionally, we know that obesity is a big risk factor for developing any cancer, including colorectal cancer. So, we think that the findings we showed with carbohydrate and energy metabolism probably relate to that to some degree as well.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer like bleeding, a change in bowel habits or abdominal pain, Dr. Kamath said it’s important to reach out to your medical provider, regardless of age.

Study results were recently presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting on June 3.

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