Comprehensive Assessment of Diet Quality and Risk of Precursors of Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2021 May 4;113(5):543-552. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djaa164.


Background: The role of poor diet quality in the rising incidence of colorectal cancer (CRC) diagnosed younger than age 50 years has not been explored. Based on molecular features of early-onset CRC, early-onset adenomas are emerging surrogate endpoints.

Methods: In a prospective cohort study (Nurses' Health Study II), we evaluated 2 empirical dietary patterns (Western and prudent) and 3 recommendation-based indexes (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension [DASH], Alternative Mediterranean Diet [AMED], and Alternative Healthy Eating Index [AHEI]-2010) with risk of early-onset adenoma overall and by malignant potential (high-risk: ≥1 cm, tubulovillous or villous histology, high-grade dysplasia, or ≥3 adenomas), among 29 474 women with 1 or more lower endoscopy before age 50 years (1991-2011). Multivariable logistic regressions were used to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: We documented 1157 early-onset adenomas with 375 at high risk. Western diet was positively associated, whereas prudent diet, DASH, AMED, and AHEI-2010 were inversely associated with risk of early-onset adenoma. The associations were largely confined to high-risk adenomas (the highest vs lowest quintile: Western, OR = 1.67, 95% CI = 1.18 to 2.37; prudent, OR = 0.69, 95% CI = 0.48 to 0.98; DASH, OR = 0.65, 95% CI = 0.45 to 0.93; AMED, OR = 0.55, 95% CI = 0.38 to 0.79; AHEI-2010, OR = 0.71, 95% CI = 0.51 to 1.01; all Ptrend ≤ .03), driven by those identified in the distal colon and rectum (all Ptrend ≤ .04, except AMED: Ptrend = .14).

Conclusion: Poor diet quality was associated with an increased risk of early-onset distal and rectal adenomas of high malignant potential. These findings provide preliminary but strong support to the role of diet in early-onset CRC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Diet, Healthy
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rectal Neoplasms*
  • Risk Factors