Background: Few prospective studies have examined cancer incidence among vegetarians.
Methods: We studied 61,566 British men and women, comprising 32,403 meat eaters, 8562 non-meat eaters who did eat fish ('fish eaters') and 20,601 vegetarians. After an average follow-up of 12.2 years, there were 3350 incident cancers of which 2204 were among meat eaters, 317 among fish eaters and 829 among vegetarians. Relative risks (RRs) were estimated by Cox regression, stratified by sex and recruitment protocol and adjusted for age, smoking, alcohol, body mass index, physical activity level and, for women only, parity and oral contraceptive use.
Results: There was significant heterogeneity in cancer risk between groups for the following four cancer sites: stomach cancer, RRs (compared with meat eaters) of 0.29 (95% CI: 0.07-1.20) in fish eaters and 0.36 (0.16-0.78) in vegetarians, P for heterogeneity=0.007; ovarian cancer, RRs of 0.37 (0.18-0.77) in fish eaters and 0.69 (0.45-1.07) in vegetarians, P for heterogeneity=0.007; bladder cancer, RRs of 0.81 (0.36-1.81) in fish eaters and 0.47 (0.25-0.89) in vegetarians, P for heterogeneity=0.05; and cancers of the lymphatic and haematopoietic tissues, RRs of 0.85 (0.56-1.29) in fish eaters and 0.55 (0.39-0.78) in vegetarians, P for heterogeneity=0.002. The RRs for all malignant neoplasms were 0.82 (0.73-0.93) in fish eaters and 0.88 (0.81-0.96) in vegetarians (P for heterogeneity=0.001).
Conclusion: The incidence of some cancers may be lower in fish eaters and vegetarians than in meat eaters.