A 12-year study that followed over 60,000 Britons, half of whom were vegetarian, suggests that vegetarians had a lower risk of developing cancer than meat-eaters. The results showed that overall, vegetarians were 12 per cent less likely to develop cancer than meat eaters, while fish eaters were 18 per cent less likely (however fish eaters was also a smaller sample and potentially a less reliable statistic).
For some cancers like leukaemia, stomach and bladder cancers, the risk was considerably lower, with vegetarians 45 per cent less likely to contract one of these cancers than meat eaters, but for other cancers such as prostate, breast and bowel cancer, the risk was much the same for vegetarians and meat eaters.
One of the things that stood out, was the fact that vegetarians appeared to have much lower risk of getting cancers of the lymph and blood. When these were grouped, vegetarians had about 50 per cent lower risk than meat eaters. And in one rare cancer in particular, multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, vegetarians were 75 per cent less likely to develop the disease compared to meat eaters.
Key TJ, Appleby PN, Spencer EA, Travis RC, Allen NE, Thorogood M, Mann JI. Cancer incidence in British vegetarians. Br J Cancer. 2009 Jul 7;101(1):192-7. Epub 2009 Jun 16. View Abstract