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Bowel cancer risk on the rise in Finland, especially among those under 50

Alcohol is a cancer risk factor

25.05.2024 - Diet high in red meat, processed meats, and alcohol, low in fiber increases risk of colorectal cancer.

Bowel cancers are the third most common cancer among Finns, after breast and prostate cancer. Currently, around 4,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed each year. However, the number of bowel cancers is on the rise. According to forecasts, there will be over 5,000 cases by 2040.

"Bowel cancer is becoming more common especially among those under 50. The risk of cancer for those under 50 has increased by 40% in the 2000s. For those older, the risk of cancer has increased by 20%," says Karri Seppä, research director of the Finnish Cancer Registry.

More fiber, less red meat

The cornerstones of bowel cancer prevention are exercise, avoiding overweight, and a healthy diet.

Risk factors for bowel cancer have been identified as a diet high in red meat, especially processed meats, and low in vegetables. Alcohol also increases the risk of bowel cancer. On the other hand, a diet rich in fiber and whole grains reduces the risk of developing bowel cancer.

A diet in line with nutritional recommendations therefore helps to prevent cancer as well. Finns' fiber intake could be improved and the consumption of red meat and meat products should be reduced.

Diet can be changed with simple everyday choices also in summer

Summer can affect eating habits. Holidays and warm weather change the rhythm of life and diet, and alcohol consumption can also increase. Taija Puranen, a special expert at cancer organizations, tells how you can eat deliciously even in summer, emphasizing fiber-rich foods and meat in moderation.

"You can enjoy summer and good food with a good conscience, as it is the overall diet that matters. Strict diets should be forgotten and focus on a varied and colorful diet. A healthy diet is also delicious."

A good way to ensure fiber intake is to always choose whole grain products. Vegetables, roots, fruits and berries should be eaten at least half a kilo a day, preferably more.  "The recommendation cannot be met with just lettuce leaves, but vegetables and roots should be part of daily cooking. Summer vacation can be a good time to try new recipes and add colorful vegetables to your diet when domestic vegetables and berries are available. The summer vacation challenge could be: enjoy at least five colors a day," Puranen recommends.

It is also important to remember moderate meat and alcohol consumption even in summer. According to the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, the consumption of red meat should be limited to a maximum of 350 grams per week. Puranen recommends trying healthier alternatives instead of meat, such as fish and various plant protein sources.

Policy recommendations for reducing bowel cancer risk

Earlier this year, the journal Annals of Oncology published a study led by Carlo La Vecchia, MD, Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at the University of Milan, which found that obesity and alcohol are contributing to increases in bowel cancer rates among young adults.

"Key factors that contribute to the rise in bowel cancer rates among young people include overweight, obesity, and related health conditions, such as high blood sugar levels and diabetes," said Prof. La Vecchia.

"Additional reasons are increases in heavier alcohol drinking over time in central and northern Europe and the UK, and reductions in physical activity. Alcohol consumption has been linked to early onset bowel cancer, and countries where there has been a reduction in alcohol consumption, such as France and Italy, have not experienced such marked rises in death rates from this cancer. Early onset bowel cancer tends to be more aggressive, with lower survival rates compared to bowel cancer diagnosed in older people.

"National governments should consider strengthening policies to encourage increased physical activity, a reduction in the number of people who are overweight or obese, and a reduction in alcohol consumption."


The Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2023 highlight that alcohol consumption has no beneficial health effects and is associated with an increased risk of various cancers, particularly breast cancer and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. It is advised to avoid alcohol intake as no safe lower limit has been established.


Key points:

  • Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Finland.

  • The risk of bowel cancer is increasing, especially among those under 50.

  • A healthy diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

  • A diet high in red meat, processed meats, and alcohol, and low in fiber increases the risk of bowel cancer.

  • Even in summer, it is important to eat a healthy diet and limit alcohol consumption.

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