Iron is an essential micronutrient with differing intake patterns and metabolism between men and women. Epidemiologic evidence on the association of dietary iron and its heme and non-heme components with colorectal cancer (CRC) development is inconclusive.
We examined baseline dietary questionnaire-assessed intakes of total, heme, and non-heme iron and CRC risk in the EPIC cohort. Sex-specific multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were computed using Cox regression. We modelled substitution of a 1 mg/day of heme iron intake with non-heme iron using the leave one-out method.
Of 450,105 participants (318,680 women) followed for 14.2 ± 4.0 years, 6162 (3511 women) developed CRC. In men, total iron intake was not associated with CRC risk (highest vs. lowest quintile, HRQ5vs.Q1:0.88; 95%CI:0.73, 1.06). An inverse association was observed for non-heme iron (HRQ5vs.Q1:0.80, 95%CI:0.67, 0.96) whereas heme iron showed a non-significant association (HRQ5vs.Q1:1.10; 95%CI:0.96, 1.27). In women, CRC risk was not associated with intakes of total (HRQ5vs.Q1:1.11, 95%CI:0.94, 1.31), heme (HRQ5vs.Q1:0.95; 95%CI:0.84, 1.07) or non-heme iron (HRQ5vs.Q1:1.03, 95%CI:0.88, 1.20). Substitution of heme with non-heme iron demonstrated lower CRC risk in men (HR:0.94; 95%CI: 0.89, 0.99).
Our findings suggest potential sex-specific CRC risk associations for higher iron consumption that may differ by dietary sources.