Can Drinking Milk Reduce Your Risk of Colon Cancer?

Children who drink milk every day at school may have a decreased risk of getting colon cancer later in life, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers reported that those who consumed milk at school on a daily basis had a 30 percent lower risk of developing this cancer than those who didn't. Those who drank 1,200 or more half-pint containers of milk had the lowest risk.

Calcium may be the reason for the reduced cancer risk, said researchers for the study, conducted by Associate Professor Brian Cox and Dr. Mary Jane Sneyd of the Hugh Adam Cancer Epidemiology Unit in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine of the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

More research is needed, according to Cox, who said that, "the study should encourage a greater focus on factors in childhood that affect the risk of bowel cancer and health overall."

The research "is interesting and provocative, but warrants further study," says Christina Tennyson, MD, a gastroenterologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center in New York City. "But I wouldn't make too many far-reaching conclusions based on this one study."

For the study, adults responded to a questionnaire. Tennyson points out that, "they had to estimate the age they started and stopped drinking milk." "It's one of the hazards of a retrospective study. It would be interesting to have a prospective study going forward."

Also, the participants were asked to recall how much milk they drank more than 40 years ago, points out attending gastroenterologist Toomas Sorra, MD of Long Island College Hospital in New York City. "You're talking about going back to a period from 1937 to 1967," he says. "That's a long time to try to remember." Sorra said he wouldn't recommend adding full-fat dairy products like whole milk to the diet, since these may even be linked to the development of colon cancer.

If you want to reduce your risk of getting colon cancer, there are certain steps you can take:

  • Eat less beef, pork, and bacon, Tennyson says. "Lower consumption of red meats and processed meats is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer." Reduce your consumption of sweets and sugary beverages.
  • Follow the Mediterranean diet. This means increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, eating moderate amounts of lowfat dairy products, and substituting olive oil for butter.
  • Beginning at age 50 or when your doctor recommends it, have a colonoscopy.



Ton, Gopalan. "Milk could reduce bowel cancer risk." 23 January 2011.