This One Drink Could Increase Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer, New Study Says

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Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer-related death.

According to the American Cancer Society, the rate of colorectal cancer in younger individuals been increasing steadily since the 1980s, with approximately 18,000 people under 50 diagnosed with the condition in 2020 alone. However, it's not just genetics that may predispose you to this deadly condition—a new study reveals that your choice of drink may be a major factor in your colorectal cancer risk.

According to research published in the BMJ journal Gut on May 6, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages in adolescence and adulthood may increase a person's likelihood of developing early-onset colorectal cancer in their lifetime.

Reviewing research conducted as part of the Nurses' Health Study II, which compiled data on 116,429 female registered nurses in the U.S. from 1991 to 2015, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri studied participants' sugar-sweetened beverage intake and early-onset colorectal cancer risk in adulthood. Researchers also identified and tracked early-onset colorectal cancer among a subgroup of 41,272 women who reported consuming sugar-sweetened beverages between ages 13 and 18.

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Among the pool of study subjects, researchers discovered 109 reported cases of early-onset colorectal cancer. Women who drank two or more 8-ounce servings of sugar-sweetened beverages a day as adults were more than twice as likely to develop early-onset colorectal cancer than those who consumed one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage or less each week.

Each daily 8-ounce serving of sugar-sweetened beverages woman drank between the ages of 13 and 18 increased her risk of early-onset colorectal by 32%.

"Despite the small number of cases, there is still a strong signal to suggest that sugar intake, especially in early life, is playing a role down the road in increasing adulthood colorectal cancer risk before age 50," explained Yin Cao, ScD, the study's lead author and an associate professor of surgery and of medicine in the Division of Public Health Sciences at Washington University, in a statement.

However, just because you've been a big soda drinker in the past doesn't mean a future colorectal cancer diagnosis is a foregone conclusion. The study's authors also found that replacing those sugar-sweetened beverages with whole or reduced-fat milk, coffee, or artificially-sweetened beverages could potentially reduce a person's risk of early-onset colorectal cancer between 17 and 35%.

For more ways to improve your health in a hurry, check out these 7 Ways to Reduce Your Cancer Risk in Seconds.