Background: An association between fats and colorectal carcinoma has been suggested, but the epidemiologic evidence by type of dietary fat is far less clear. Colorectal carcinoma rates have been relatively low in Mediterranean countries compared with most other Western countries, but the components of the Mediterranean diet responsible for this favorable pattern are unclear.
Methods: The relationship between various added (seasoning) fats and colorectal carcinoma risk was investigated using data from a case-control study conducted between January 1992 and June 1996 in six Italian areas. Cases were 1953 patients with incident, histologically confirmed colorectal carcinoma (1225 of the colon and 728 of the rectum) admitted to the major teaching and general hospitals in the study areas. Controls were 4154 subjects with no history of cancer who were admitted to hospitals in the same catchment areas for acute, nonneoplastic diseases unrelated to the the digestive tract and requiring no long term modifications of diet. Dietary habits were investigated using a validated food frequency questionnaire including 78 items. Lipid intake was estimated by taking into account the content of seasoning lipids in different dishes, the frequency of consumption and portion size of each dish, and individual fat intake patterns.
Results: The odds ratios (OR) for successive tertiles of olive oil intake, compared with the lowest one, were 0.87 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.75-1.01) and 0.83 (95% CI, 0.70-0.99) (chi2trend = 4.49, P = 0.03) when colorectal carcinoma was analyzed as a whole, 0.82 (95% CI, 0.68-0.98) and 0.81 (95% CI, 0.66-0.99) (chi2trend = 4.05, P = 0.04) for colon carcinoma, and 0.96 (95% CI, 0.77-1.19) and 0.88 (95% CI, 0.66-1.12) for rectal carcinoma. For specific seed oils (including sunflower, maize, peanut, and soya), the OR for colorectal carcinoma was 0.91 in the highest tertile of intake, and the corresponding values were 1.01 for mixed seed oils and 0.93 for butter. None of these estimates was significantly different from the unity. Allowance for vegetable intake attenuated the apparent protection from olive oil consumption (OR, 0.94 for colon and 0.97 for rectum for the highest tertile), which still was apparent in younger subjects (OR, 0.82 for colon and 0.69 for rectum).
Conclusions: In this study, seasoning fats did not appear to increase the risk of colorectal carcinoma, and there was little evidence for a differential effect by fat type. If such a differential effect exists, it is minor and could favor olive oil.