Variation in colorectal cancer rates between countries and within ethnic groups upon migration and/or Westernization suggests a role for some aspects of Western lifestyle in the etiology of this disease. We conducted a population-based case-control study in the multiethnic population of Hawaii to evaluate associations between colorectal cancer and a number of characteristics of the Western lifestyle (high caloric intake, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, and drinking) and some of their associated diseases. We interviewed in person 698 male and 494 female United States-born or immigrant Japanese, Caucasian, Filipino, Hawaiian, and Chinese patients diagnosed in 1987–1991 with colorectal cancer and 1192 population controls matched on age, sex, and ethnicity. Conditional logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios adjusting for dietary and nondietary risk factors. Place of birth and duration of residence in the United States were unrelated to colorectal cancer risk. Energy intake (independent of the calorie source) and body mass index were directly associated with risk, and lifetime recreational physical activity was inversely associated with risk. The associations with these factors were independent of each other, additive (on the logistic scale) and stronger in men. When individuals were cross-categorized in relation to the medians of these variables, those with the higher energy intake and body mass index and lower physical activity were at the highest risk (for males, OR, 3.0; 95% confidence interval, 1.8–5.0, and for females, OR, 1.7; 95% confidence interval, 1.0–3.2). Smoking in the distant, as well as recent, past and alcohol use were directly associated with colorectal cancer in both sexes. Individuals with a history of diabetes or frequent constipation were at increased risk for this cancer, whereas past diagnosis of hyper-cholesterolemia was inversely associated with risk. The findings were consistent between sexes, among ethnic groups, and across stages at diagnosis, making bias an unlikely explanation. These results confirm the data from immigrant studies that suggest that the increase in colorectal cancer risk experienced by Asian immigrants to the United States occurred in the first generation because we found no difference in risk between the immigrants themselves and subsequent generations. They also agree with recent findings that suggest that high energy intake, large body mass, and physical inactivity independently increase risk of this disease and that a nutritional imbalance, similar to the one involved in diabetes, may lead to colorectal cancer.
This research was supported in part by NIH Grant P01-CA-33619 and contract NO1-CN-05223 from the National Cancer Institute.