People with a genetic susceptibility to colon cancer increase their risk by eating junk food, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer on December 17.

“These patients have this very high risk because of this [genetic] mutation they have, but it might be that they could reduce the number of [tumors] by having a more healthy lifestyle,” Akke Botma of Wageningen University in the Netherlands and lead author of the study told Reuters.

The 486 Dutch study participants all have Lynch syndrome, a genetic disorder that predisposes people to cancer at younger ages. It affects up to one in 660 people. Botma's study is the first to find a link between certain foods and a higher colon cancer risk in this group.

Up to 70 percent of people with Lynch syndrome will develop colon cancer. Among the general population, colon cancer is thought to be influenced by diet, particularly alcohol and red and processed meat consumption.

Botma and her colleagues contacted people with Lynch syndrome from a national database. At the beginning of the study they surveyed the participants about what they ate and divided them into four food groups.

The groups included one that was dominated by fruits, vegetables and whole grains (dubbed the “Prudent” group); another that was high in meat and coffee (“Meat”); a third that resembled a Mediterranean diet — fish, leafy greens, pasta, sauces and wine (“Cosmopolitan”); and a fourth that was heavy on fried snacks, fast food and diet soda (“Snack”).

Over 20 months of followup, 56 of the participants — or 12 percent — screened positive for tumors in the colon, a precursor to cancer.

Of the four dietary groupings, only the junk food category showed any link with a different risk for developing colon tumors.

Of the 160 people who scored low on the junk food diet, 17 developed tumors, while 18 out of the 160 people who ate the most junk food developed tumors. (Those who followed the “Prudent” diet had the lowest incidence of tumors.)

Pretty much the same, right? But after taking into account smoking and other risk factors, the researchers concluded that those in the high junk food group were actually twice as likely to develop colon tumors. However, the results are too preliminary for doctors to make dietary recommendations, the researchers say.

So use your own best judgement.

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