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BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The role of nutrition in the pathogenesis of colorectal cancer is not fully understood. Milk products are an essential part of human nutrition in Western countries. Absorption of lactose, the main sugar of milk, is regulated by the activity of the lactase enzyme in the gut wall. The activity of lactase is genetically determined and is associated with a C/T single nucleotide polymorphism residing 13910 bp upstream of the lactase coding sequence. Here we have studied the relationship between the C/T(-13910) polymorphism and colorectal cancer in Finnish, British, and Spanish populations. PATIENTS AND METHODS: A total of 2766 subjects, including 963 Finnish, 283 British, and 163 Spanish subjects with colorectal cancer, and 773 Finnish, 363 British, and 221 Spanish control subjects, were genotyped for the C/T(-13910) variant by polymerase chain reaction minisequencing. RESULTS: The C/C(-13910) genotype, which is a robust molecular marker of low lactase activity (lactase non-persistence), was found to significantly associate with the risk of colorectal cancer (p = 0.015) in the Finnish subjects, with an odds ratio of 1.40 (95% confidence interval 1.07-1.85). No association was found with site, histology, or stage of the tumour. No significant risk was detected in the British or Spanish populations. CONCLUSION: Low lactase enzyme activity, defined by genotyping of the C/T(-13910) variant, may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Further studies are warranted to investigate the role of milk and other dairy products in the pathogenesis of colon cancer in different populations.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





643 - 647


Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Colorectal Neoplasms, Female, Finland, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Genotype, Humans, Lactase, Male, Middle Aged, Neoplasm Staging, Nutritional Physiological Phenomena, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide, Risk Factors, Spain, United Kingdom