Poverty and Low Educational Levels Increase Colorectal Cancer Risk


A new study finds that diet and lifestyle choices among the poor account for a high percentage of colorectal cancer cases in that population.




As I discuss in my bestselling book, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, the risk of developing GI tract cancers, including colorectal cancer, is heavily influenced by diet and other modifiable lifestyle factors.

Colorectal cancer tends to be more common in people at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, and a number of explanations for this observation have been proposed, although the actual reasons for this finding have not been clear.  Now, a newly published update of the enormous National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study sheds important light on the disparity in colorectal cancer incidence observed between people at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum and those at the higher rungs.  This ongoing prospective public health study is one of the largest such studies in the world, having enrolled more than 506,000 patient volunteers thus far.  This study update appears in the current issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

During the course of this huge ongoing public health study, thus far, 7,676 patient volunteers have developed colorectal cancer.

All of the patient volunteers in this gigantic clinical research study were assessed for the following dietary and lifestyle factors known to increase colorectal cancer risk: lack of physical activity (sedentary lifestyle), unhealthy fat- and meat-rich diets, smoking, and obesity.  When these lifestyle-associated risk factors for colorectal cancer were assessed in patient volunteers at various socioeconomic levels, a clear pattern emerged.  Among patient volunteers with less formal education and in lower income brackets, there was a significantly higher likelihood of engaging in dietary and lifestyle habits known to increase colorectal cancer risk.  Indeed, a striking 44 percent of the colorectal cancer cases that developed during the course of this research study appeared to be associated with high-risk diets and lifestyles among patient volunteers who reported lower levels of formal education.  Similarly, 36 percent of the colon cancer cases that developed during the course of this study were associated with high-risk diet and lifestyle factors among patient volunteers reporting lower income levels.

In view of the huge number of patient volunteers participating within this study, the findings presented above are highly likely to accurately reflect a true cause-and-effect relationship, rather than potentially coincidental “associations.”  While it has long been known that folks at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum tend to engage in riskier dietary and lifestyle behaviors than the general population, the eye-opening findings of this study indicate that the “excess” colorectal cancer risk among people with lower education and income levels is strikingly linked to modifiable dietary and lifestyle factors known to increase colorectal cancer risk (as well as other cancer and serious non-cancer illnesses, I might add).  As is the case with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and other diet and lifestyle associated chronic illnesses, colorectal cancer disproportionately affects the poor in our society.  Thus, the disturbing findings of this public health study indicate that more must be done to educate those at greatest risk for colorectal cancer (and other serious cancer and non-cancer diet and lifestyle associated illnesses) regarding healthier diet and lifestyle choices.

A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race is now available in both printed and digital formats from all major bookstores.  Get your copy now, and begin living an evidence-based cancer prevention lifestyle now!

At this time, more than 8 percent of Americans are unemployed.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty between September 2001 and December 2011 is now more than 12 percent.  A new website, Veterans in Healthcare, seeks to connect veterans with potential employers.  If you are a veteran who works in the healthcare field, or if you are an employer who is looking for physicians, advanced practice professionals, nurses, corpsmen/medics, or other healthcare professionals, then please take a look at Veterans in Healthcare. As a retired veteran of the U.S. Army, I would also like to personally urge you to hire a veteran whenever possible.

For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-A-MillionVroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!

Within one week of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was ranked #6 among all cancer-related books on the Amazon.com “Top 100 Bestseller’s List” for Kindle e-books. Within three months of publication, A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race was the #1 book on the Amazon.comTop 100 New Book Releases in Cancer” list.

Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


I and the staff of Weekly Health Update would again like to take this opportunity to thank the more than 100,000 health-conscious people from around the world who visit this premier global health information website every month.  (More than 1.3 million pages of high-quality medical research findings were served to the worldwide audience of health-conscious people who visited Weekly Health Update in 2011!)  As always, we enjoy receiving your stimulating feedback and questions, and I will continue to try and personally answer as many of your inquiries as I possibly can.


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