Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most common and lethal malignancies in Western countries. Its development is a multistep process that spans more than 15 years, thereby providing an opportunity for prevention and early detection. The high incidence and mortality rates emphasise the need for prevention and screening. Many countries have therefore introduced CRC screening programmes. It is expected, and preliminary evidence in some countries suggests, that this screening effort will decrease CRC-related mortality rates. CRC prevention involves a healthy lifestyle and chemoprevention-more specifically, oral chemoprevention that can interfere with progression from a normal colonic mucosa to adenocarcinoma. This preventive effect is important for individuals with a genetic predisposition, but also in the general population. The ideal chemopreventive agent, or combination of agents, remains unknown, especially when considering safety during long-term use. This review evaluates the evidence across 80 meta-analyses of interventional and observational studies of CRC prevention using medications, vitamins, supplements and dietary factors. This review suggests that the following factors are associated with a decreased incidence of CRC: aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, magnesium, folate, a high consumption of fruits and vegetables, fibre and dairy products. An increased incidence of CRC was observed with frequent alcohol or meat consumption. No evidence of a protective effect for tea, coffee, garlic, fish and soy products was found. The level of evidence is moderate for aspirin, β-carotene and selenium, but is low or very low for all other exposures or interventions.
Keywords: aspirin; cancer prevention; chemoprevention; colorectal cancer; vitamins.
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