2 sugary drinks a day can double woman’s colon cancer risk

From ages 13 to 18, each daily serving was linked to a 32% increased risk of colorectal cancer before 50

Although fairly uncommon, colorectal cancer diagnoses have increased in recent years among people under age 50. A new study led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis might have a link.

According to the researchers, heavy consumption of sugary drinks during adolescence (ages 13 to 18) and adulthood can double a woman’s risk of the disease.

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“Colorectal cancer in younger adults remains relatively rare, but the fact that the rates have been increasing over the past three decades — and we don’t understand why — is a major public health concern and a priority in cancer prevention,” senior author Yin Cao, an associate professor of surgery and of medicine in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University, said in a press release. “Due to the increase in colorectal cancer at younger ages, the average age of colorectal cancer diagnosis has gone down from 72 years to 66 years. These cancers are more advanced at diagnosis and have different characteristics compared with cancers from older populations.”

Compared with women who drank fewer than one 8-ounce serving per week of sugar-sweetened beverages, those who drank two or more servings per day had more than twice the risk of developing early-onset colorectal cancer, meaning it was diagnosed before age 50.

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The researchers calculated a 16% increase in risk for each 8-ounce serving per day. From ages 13 to 18, an important time for growth and development, each daily serving was linked to a 32% increased risk of eventually developing colorectal cancer before 50.

For their study, the group analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study II, a large population study that tracked nearly 116,500 female nurses from 1991 to 2015. Every four years, participants answered surveys that included questions about diet, including the types and estimated amounts of beverages they drank. Of the total participants, more than 41,000 also were asked to recall their beverage habits during adolescence.

The researchers identified 109 diagnoses of early-onset colorectal cancer among the nearly 116,500 participants.

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Although sugar-sweetened drinks were linked to an increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer, others, including milk and coffee, were associated with a decreased risk. The researchers said this observational study can’t demonstrate that drinking sugary beverages causes this type of cancer or that drinking milk or coffee is protective, but they suggest replacing sweetened beverages with unsweetened drinks is a better choice for long-term health.

“Given this data, we recommend that people avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and instead choose drinks like milk and coffee without sweeteners,” Cao said. The study was published online Thursday in the journal Gut.

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