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Nutritional Sciences News & Highlights


Dairy Consumption Linked to Lower Colorectal Cancer Risk

Dairy Consumption Linked to Lower Colorectal Cancer Risk

By: Briana Granado. 

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the United States.1 It affects men and women equally. Overall, the incidence and mortality of colorectal cancer has decreased thanks to effective screening measures, early interventions, and better treatment options. However, the incidence of colorectal cancer in men and women who are less than 50 years of age has increased by 2%, and the reason for this increase is currently unknown.1 While age, genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of colorectal cancer, current research suggests that colon cancer can be largely prevented through diet and lifestyle changes.2 High intakes of red and processed meat are believed to be a cause of colorectal cancer, which is one reason why the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends limiting the consumption of red and processed meat.3 Dairy products have also been linked to colorectal cancer and might play a protective role.

The latest report from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the AICR, states that consuming dairy products decreases the risk of colorectal cancer. The CUP included evidence from total dairy, milk, and cheese intake and found an association between higher milk and diary consumption and decreased risk of all colorectal cancer sub-types4 However, the evidence available for cheese was not as strong as the other exposures.4 The panel also found that increasing dietary calcium intake by 200 mg per day decreased the risk of colon cancer by 6%. In a study published in 2019 in Advances in Nutrition, researchers looked at more than 22,000 cases of colorectal cancer and discovered that higher consumption of total dairy products and total milk significantly decreased colorectal cancer risk at all sites, including the proximal and distal colon and the rectum.5 Consuming low-fat milk protected against cancer of the colon, while cheese consumption was linked to a lower risk of colon cancer in the proximal colon.

Overall, the research linking dairy products to lower colorectal cancer incidence is promising. Current evidence suggests that dairy consumption may help protect against colorectal cancer development. In addition to protecting against colorectal cancer, milk and other dairy products are good sources of calcium, which is necessary for bone health. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming low-fat and fat-free dairy products as part of a healthy diet.6 

​Calcium may protect against colorectal cancer, with evidence for several plausible mechanisms.

​According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, there is strong evidence that dairy reduces the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The effect of dairy products in reducing colorectal cancer risk is likely mediated by calcium​ and vitamin D.

Briana graduated from The University of Arizona in 2018 with a B.S. in Nutrition and is currently working towards a Master of Science (M.Sc.) focused in Biochemical and Functional Nutrition from The University of Texas at Austin.


  • 1.Thanikachalam K, Khan G. Colorectal Cancer and Nutrition. Nutrients. 2019;11(1):1-11
  • 2.Pan P, Jianhua Y, Li-Shu W. Colon Cancer: What We Eat. Surg Oncol Clin N Am. 2019;27(2):243-267
  • 3.Aune D, chan DS, Vieira AR, et al. Red and Processed meat intake and risk of colorectal adenomas: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Cancer Causes Control. 2013;24(4):611-627
  • 4.World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report. 2018. Diet, nutrition, physical activity and colorectal cancer. Available at dietandcancerreport.org.
  • 5.Barrubes L, Babio N, Becerra-Tomas N, et al. Association between dairy product consumption and colorectal cancer risk in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. Adv Nutr. 2019;10:S190-S211.
  • 6.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition