Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and the third in women. About 24,000 Canadians are diagnosed with colorectal cancer annually, representing 10% of all new cancer cases.1 Given these statistics, cancer prevention should be top of mind in your patient care, and lifestyle changes can play a role. 

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) says colorectal is one of the most preventable types of cancer, and that a balanced diet paired with physical activity can prevent almost half of all colorectal cancer cases.2  When it comes to nutrition, research shows dietary patterns that are high in fibre, calcium, and dairy products can help reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.3

Download the colorectal cancer fact sheet

Nutrition recommendations

Dairy foods are protective against colorectal cancer. Researchers believe it’s due to the calcium, vitamin D, and probiotics that are found in dairy.4 Recommend that your patients aim for 2-3 servings of dairy products per day. One serving is equal to a cup of milk or yogurt, or 1.5 ounces of cheese.  

Research also shows that diets rich in fibre can help prevent colorectal cancer.5 Patients should aim for 25-35 grams of fibre per day from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.Your patients can create healthy, fibre-rich meals by following these guidelines:

  • Filling a quarter of the meal with protein rich foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, legumes, fish or poultry

  • Filling half the meal with vegetables and fruit. These can be fresh, frozen, canned, raw or cooked

  • Fill a quarter of the meal with whole grains such as oats, barley, brown rice or whole wheat

There’s also evidence that cutting back on red meat, processed meat and alcohol can help with colorectal cancer prevention. Your patients should:

  • Limit red meat, such as beef and lamb to 350-500 grams (12-18 ounces) cooked weight per week

  • Avoid processed meat (bacon, hotdogs, deli meat, ham, etc.) except for special occasions

  • Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks daily for men; or one drink for women.

    • One drink is: 150ml wine, 350ml beer, or 45ml liquor

Studies from the AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund say there is “strong probable evidence” that dairy products decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.7 In their definition, “dairy” includes total dairy, milk, and cheese. 

A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis of dairy and colorectal cancer looked at 29 studies comprising a total of 22,000 people.8  Collectively, the studies showed that high consumption of total dairy products and total milk was associated with a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. Meta-analyses conducted in 2021 and 2022 also found that fermented dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, helped decrease colorectal cancer risk.9,10  

Researchers suspect that this effect is likely linked to the calcium, vitamin D, and probiotics found in dairy foods.11 Calcium seems to be the main component offering protection. In studies, total calcium intake of about 1,400 milligrams per day compared to an intake of less than 600 milligrams per day was associated with a statistically significant lower risk of colon cancer.12 Other components in milk products that may have a protective effect include:

  • conjugated linoleic acid

  • butyric acid (a short-chain fatty acid)

  • lactic acid bacteria

  • sphingolipids13,14  

Download the colorectal cancer brochure for your patients

Practical tips for patients

Here is some advice to share with your patients to help reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer:15

Use the plate model to build nutritious meals.

  • Enjoy 2-3 servings of dairy products each day. One serving is equal to a cup of milk 

  • or yogurt, or 1.5 ounces of cheese.  

  • Enjoy fibre-rich foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, grains and nuts. Aim for 

  • 25-35 grams of fibre per day.  

  • Be physically active. Aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week, 

  • in bouts of 10 minutes or more.

  • Limit red and processed meat to no more than 3 portions per week. 

  • That’s 350-500 grams (12-18 ounces) cooked weight.

  • If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start. If you do drink, limit alcohol to one drink for women and two drinks for men per day.

Read more from Hospital News: Milk and colorectal cancer - what does the research say?

Studies show inverse associations of colorectal cancer risk for people who consume 400 grams per day of total dairy and 200 grams per day of milk.16,17 One cup of milk is 240 grams


Download useful resources, research studies, and fact sheets on the benefits of dairy

Single glass of milk

Nutrients in Dairy

As a source of complete protein and essential nutrients, drinking milk is a simple way to support optimal health.

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Dairy and Disease Prevention

Naturally nutrient dense, milk helps to combat nutrition deficiencies and ward off heart disease, hypertension, and colorectal cancer.

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Dairy Milk and Plant Based Beverages

All forms of milk, including lactose-free milk, contain complete protein, vitamins, and minerals.

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Heart Health Benefits of Milk

It is estimated that 80% of heart disease cases can be prevented with lifestyle changes that include a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and smoking cessation.

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Dairy and Colorectal Cancer

Studies have shown that high consumption of total dairy products and total milk was associated with a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. 

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Milk and Hypertension

Milk plays a role in disease prevention for many chronic conditions, including heart disease and hypertension. Learn how adding milk into your patients’ diets can help with blood pressure management.

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Milk and Lactose Intolerance

Some people have trouble digesting lactose, but that doesn’t mean giving up dairy! Read on to learn more about lactose intolerance, how it’s formally diagnosed, and how you can provide the best nutrition advice to patients.

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Milk and Physical Activity

Milk has a unique combination of nutrients that make it the ideal beverage for post-exercise rehydration and protein synthesis.

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Milk and Pediatric Nutrition

Leading pediatric and health organizations recognize the benefits of milk and dairy foods for early childhood. Just how much milk is recommended for children, and which nutrients will kids get from a tall glass of milk? 

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Milk and Mucus

When a runny nose or congestion appears, many people believe they need to cut out milk to reduce mucus. It turns out that this is a myth, and studies show that milk does not cause mucus.

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Diabetes Prevention and Milk

Take a closer look at the role of milk in the prevention of T2D. There are potential mechanisms through which milk and dairy foods may play a role in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

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