Eating a vegetarian diet may be associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancers compared to non-vegetarians, according to a study.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Dietary factors have been identified as a modifiable risk factor for colorectal cancer, including red meat – which is linked to increased risk – and food rich in dietary fibre – which is linked to reduced risk – according to the study background.

Among 77,659 study participants, researchers identified 380 cases of colon cancer and 110 cases of rectal cancer.

"Compared with non-vegetarians, vegetarians had a 22 percent lower risk for all colorectal cancers, 19 percent lower risk for colon cancer and 29 percent lower risk for rectal cancer," according to study author Michael J. Orlich of Loma Linda University, California.

"The evidence that vegetarian diets similar to those of our study participants may be associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer, along with prior evidence of the potential reduced risk of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and mortality, should be considered carefully in making dietary choices and in giving dietary guidance," the study concluded.

The study was published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.