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2018 World Cancer Report reaffirms the protective effect of milk and cheese against colon cancer. click to tweet Twitter

What do dairy products have in common with whole grains, calcium, physical activity and foods containing dietary fibre? There is strong evidence for all five factors showing they reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. 

That is the conclusion of the report from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research. The report also points out that vitamin C, vitamin D and fish might protect against colon cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund, a global leader linking organizations involved in cancer research and cancer prevention, has a continuous update program (CUP) to analyze research on how diet and other lifestyle factors influence cancer. Their findings are used to inform everyone from policymakers to members of the public about the latest research and recommendations to prevent cancer. 

The report on colorectal cancer is based on a systematic review of the research literature done by an Expert Panel of scientists. In their review, they noted that 8 out of 10 cohort studies found a decreased risk of colon cancer as milk intake increased. The report was published in 2017 and revised in 2018.

There is enough evidence to conclude that dairy products probably protect against colorectal cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund Report, 2018

The Expert Panel ranks the various risk factors. Their conclusions regarding factors decreasing risk of colon cancer can be found in the table below.

Factors decreasing risk of colon cancer


physical activity

whole grains
foods containing dietary fibre
dairy products (milk, cheese)
calcium supplements

foods containing vitamin C
vitamin D
multivitamin supplements

Limited—no conclusion

grains, potatoes, poultry, shellfish, legumes, garlic
animal fat, low fat, fatty acid composition, cholesterol, omega-3 from fish
non-dairy sources of calcium
foods containing added sugars, sucrose
coffee, tea, caffeine
carbohydrate, starch, total fat, glycemic index, glycemic load
folate; vitamins A, B6, E; selenium, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, retinol, lycopene
meal frequency, energy intake, dietary pattern 

World Cancer Research Fund, 2018

What is it about milk?

The protective effect of milk is probably due in part to its calcium content. The report cites evidence that casein and lactose found in milk may also increase calcium bioavailability. But many other components in milk, such as vitamin D, butyric acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) could also play a role in protecting from colon cancer.

Here are 5 simple tips to reduce your risk of colon cancer

Considering this evidence, it makes sense to add or replace some foods in your diet with ones that may protect you from colon cancer

  • Eat the recommended amount of fruits and veggies every day. That’s 7–10 servings/day for adults, and a sure way to get plenty of fibre.
    - Think fruit for snacks.
    - Sauté veggies—tasty! And it’s easy to get 2–3 servings of veggies this way.
    - A serving is only ½ cup, so double and triple up your portions at meals.
  • Aim for at least 4 servings of whole grains during the day for even more fibre.
    - Choose whole grain bread for sandwiches—that’s 2 servings.
    - Choose whole-grain cereals like oatmeal.
    - Keep whole grain crackers like rye crispbread in your cupboard to have handy for snacks.
  • Make dried beans a regular part of your meals for a final fibre boost.
    - Keep canned beans handy so you can add them to soups and salads.
    - Wrap a tortilla around beans, salsa and some grated cheese for a quick meal. 
    - Keep hummus ready-made for sandwich spreads and dips. Try this original recipe for White Bean & Feta Hummus
  • Serve milk with meals.
    - Be maverick—order milk when eating out. Each cup of milk counts as a serving, and adults need 2–3 servings of milk or milk alternatives in a day.
    - Cook with milk. Try soups such as Springtime Chicken, Spinach and Snap Pea Soup.
    - Invest in one of the new insulated drink containers to bring milk along for lunch.
  • Go DIY
    - Use milk to make yogurt, paneer or kefir.

Follow these expert tips and you are well on your way to protecting yourself from colon cancer!

by Sydney Massey, MPH, RD

revised from an earlier version of this article

Dietitians of Canada blog badge 2018

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