The association between dietary inflammatory index and risk of colorectal cancer among postmenopausal women: results from the Women’s Health Initiative

Fred K. Tabung, Susan E. Steck*, Yunsheng Ma, Angela D. Liese, Jiajia Zhang, Bette Caan, Lifang Hou, Karen C. Johnson, Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, Nitin Shivappa, Jean Wactawski-Wende, Judith K. Ockene, James R. Hebert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Scopus citations


Purpose: Inflammation is a process central to carcinogenesis and in particular to colorectal cancer (CRC). Previously, we developed a dietary inflammatory index (DII) from extensive literature review to assess the inflammatory potential of diet. In the current study, we utilized this novel index in the Women’s Health Initiative to prospectively evaluate its association with risk of CRC in postmenopausal women. Methods: The DII was calculated from baseline food frequency questionnaires administered to 152,536 women aged 50–79 years without CRC at baseline between 1993 and 1998 and followed through 30 September 2010. Incident CRC cases were ascertained through a central physician adjudication process. Multiple covariate-adjusted Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate hazard ratios (HR) and 95 % confidence intervals (95 % CI) for colorectal, colon (proximal/distal locations), and rectal cancer risk, by DII quintiles (Q). Results: During an average 11.3 years of follow-up, a total of 1,920 cases of CRC (1,559 colon and 361 rectal) were identified. Higher DII scores (representing a more pro-inflammatory diet) were associated with an increased incidence of CRC (HRQ5–Q1 1.22; 95 % CI 1.05, 1.43; ptrend = 0.02) and colon cancer, specifically proximal colon cancer (HRQ5–Q1 1.35; 95 % CI 1.05, 1.67; ptrend = 0.01) but not distal colon cancer (HRQ5–Q1 0.84; 95 % CI 0.61, 1.18; ptrend = 0.63) or rectal cancer (HRQ5–Q1 1.20; 95 % CI 0.84, 1.72; ptrend = 0.65). Conclusion: Consumption of pro-inflammatory diets is associated with an increased risk of CRC, especially cancers located in the proximal colon. The absence of a significant association for distal colon cancer and rectal cancer may be due to the small number of incident cases for these sites. Interventions that may reduce the inflammatory potential of the diet are warranted to test our findings, thus providing more information for colon cancer prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-408
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Causes and Control
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2015


  • Colorectal cancer
  • Dietary inflammatory index
  • Women’s Health Initiative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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