"Identifying modifiable risk factors for cancer of the small intestine is important not only because the incidence of this cancer is on the rise, but it may enable us to further understand other gastrointestinal malignancies" said Amanda Cross, Ph.D., a National Cancer Institute researcher and the study's lead author.
Diets high in red and processed meats are linked to cancer of the large intestine, but, this is the first prospective study to examine meat and fat intake in relation to cancer of the small intestine.
In the study, Cross and other researchers from the National Cancer Institute used food frequency questionnaires to track food intake in a half million men and women enrolled in the NIH -AARP Diet and Health study over an eight-year period.
Through state cancer registries and national death indexes researchers noted the development of 60 adenocarcinomas and 80 carcinoid tumors of the small intestine.
The findings showed no clear link between red and processed meat and these tumours, but they suggested a noticeably elevated risk for carcinoid tumours in the small intestine in association with saturated fat intake.
"Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that cancers of the small and large bowel both arise from adenomatous polyp precursor lesions, suggesting the adenoma-carcinoma sequence is relevant to both sites. For unknown reasons, the large intestine is much more susceptible to malignant transformation," said Cross.
"Identifying risk factors that are unique as well as those that are similar for the two sites may aid our understanding of the comparative resistance of the small intestine to carcinogenesis," Cross added.
The study is published in the journal Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.