Cancer and Nutrition – Potential for Prevention and Cure

Why are cancer and nutrition important?

If we haven’t experienced cancer ourselves, we all know friends, family or colleagues who’ve had cancer or... who will get it.  Stats from the National Cancer Institute indicate that, if current trends from 2007-2009 continue, a staggering one in two men and women born today will get cancer sometimes in their life time.

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Diet can have a profound effect on whether you get cancer and, if you do, if and how well you recover.

There are many foods that either

 (i) promote cancer; or

(ii) help prevent and cure it.

The Cancer and Nutrition Connection - How Diet Can Promote Cancer and Prevent it. Loads of fruits and veg are key to cancer prevention.

Cancer and Nutrition – What role does diet play in getting cancer?

While scientists don’t know all the reasons why people get cancer, most experts speculate that…


…a combination of genetics and environment play a role and an interrelated one at that.


Environment and lifestyle including

  • what you eat, drink and breathe
  • your activity level;
  • exposure to radiation whether via tanning, air travel or X-ray equipment;
  • infection by viruses or bacteria;
  • your weight and whether it is normal or extreme in either direction;
  • stress, including how much and how you cope with it; and
  • hormonal events like the number of kids you have, whether you breastfeed or take hormone replacement therapy...

... can play a role in your risk for getting cancer. 

Cancer and Nutrition – DNA is not destiny; Diet plays a role

While you cannot change your DNA, scientists have learned that environment, including diet, can change how your DNA is expressed.

Carrying a gene or DNA mutation that predisposes you to a higher risk for certain cancers, does not condemn to get the disease.  Cancer and nutrition are closely connected.

…Nutrition, we’re learning, can play a pivotal role in cancer prevention.


Ensuring your environment, including your food and exposure to toxins, is as cancer-preventative and immune supportive as possible, can reduce your chances of getting cancer and, if it should touch you, managing your cancer successfully.

Top Five Cancers by Incidence*

- Prostate; Breast; Lung & Bronchus; Colon & Rectum; Skin Melanoma

Top Five Cancers by Mortality**

- Lung & Bronchus; Colon & Rectum; Breast; Pancreas; and Prostate.

*US. Mortality Data, Both Sexes, all races, 2005-2009

*SEER (USNCI), US, both sexes, all races, 2005-2009

For more on US cancer statistics and trends in cancer from the National Cancer Institute, press here.

For more on how diet and lifestyle can affect gene expression, listen to the this Ted Talk by Dean Ornish. 

Indeed, a persuasive library of epidemiological studies suggests that diet (both the food we eat and, as importantly, the foods we don’t eat) plays a significant role in cancer prevention as well as successful cancer management.

Cancer and Nutrition – Spotlight on Research and Cancer and Nutrition in Food.

  • A 1991 review of 90 studies found Vitamin C had a strong protective effect against cancers of the mouth, esophagus, stomach and pancreas and a substantial effect against colorectal, breast and lung cancers; but little or no protection against prostate cancer. This suggests that prostate cancer may relate more to hormonal factors than anti-oxidant status; and vice versa for the other cancers.
  • Finnish researchers have found a link betweenlower incidence of cancer and high blood levels of Vitamin E; and a corresponding 10 times increase in cancer risk when blood levels of Vitamin E and selenium are low.
  • A study in a selenium depleted region of China where liver cancer rates are sky-high, found widespread selenium supplementation of the population lowered substantially the incidence of liver cancers and other diseases.
  • Many studies have shown a reduced cancer risk for individuals with high beta-carotene levels. Beta-carotene, found abundantly in bright orange and red fruits and vegetables like carrots, peppers and sweet potatoes, converts into Vitamin A inside the body. While many studies support beta-carotene supplementation as a cancer preventative, a couple of studies have shown an increase in cancer death when given, without other supplemental antioxidant nutrients, to male smokers. This suggests the importance of synergy among antioxidants and possible dangers of supplementing single nutrients divorced from a varied nutrient-dense diet.

Cancer and Nutrition – Why  is Food So Important for Cancer Prevention and  Cancer Management?

Why does what we eat so influence our susceptibility or resistance to disease?  


We do it so often - eating that is – day in day out.  


The nutrients you consume permeate all cells in your body, affecting their internal function as well as their communication with each other. This determines whether they’ll behave properly including whether they’ll die, divide, or respond effectively to signals from the immune system. The immune system is made of cells that, in turn, are affected by the food you eat.

What does military discipline have to do with cancer? Cancer and the body politic.
Like good army cadets, normal cells step into line when told to do something by the immune officers; cancer cells, by contrast, disdain authority and do what they want, regardless of how destructive their behavior may be for the state of the body.

If not disciplined effectively, cancer cells will increase in number and subversive behavior – the ultimate threat is overthrow of the body state.

Look at cancer as a form of biological coup where a few armed thugs take over the government by force and rally their self-interested supporters to join the insurrection.

The result is that diet can function like a kind of natural chemotherapy which,  depending on what you eat and the type and stage of your cancer, can be as effective as some conventional chemotherapy regimens. Indeed a strategic cancer fighting diet can be a powerful adjunct to traditional chemotherapy or other pharmaceutical cancer treatments

Patterns of good diet, or for that matter poor diet, over time have a profound effect on your health, starting at a cellular level. While no one meal is going to make or break your health (thankfully or we’re all in real trouble), the incremental repetitive nature of a healthy diet will play out in increased vitality and immunity for life.  This is why cancer and nutrition is such a vital issue for your overall good health – cancer or not.

Cancer and Nutrition Factoid - Diet and lifestyle possibly explains Why BCRA “breast cancer gene” mutation carriers get cancer years earlier than the previous generation of carriers
Decades ago when diets were substantially higher in anti-oxidant rich fruits and vegetables and average BMIs were lower, the age at which cancer was diagnosed was substantially later (eight years) for carriers of the BCRA “breast cancer gene” mutation than for today’s carriers. This provoked one health writer to opine that the BCRA gene mutation should be seen as less of a “breast cancer gene mutation” than a “junk food gene mutation”… Press here to read more about the MD Anderson Study detailing the age difference for cancer diagnosis among different generations of family members carrying the BCRA gene mutations.

Cancer and Prevention – The Seed and the Soil

Okay, so you get it!

If you routinely bathe your cells with nutrients from nutrient-dense whole food, your health will be bolstered including your immune system’s ability to quench cancer’s growth and spread.


The analogy used repeatedly by cancer specialists is that cancer is the seed and the body, in which that seed grows, is the soil or terrain.  How you treat or manage the soil can have a major effect on how the cancerous weed from that seed will thrive or whether it will even sprout, let alone grow and spread. 

Not surprisingly, if you routinely starve your cells of the anti-oxidants and nutrients it needs and, instead, assault it with nutrient -depleted junk food that wastes vital nutrients to metabolize, you and your health will suffer and your susceptibility to disease including growth of that cancerous seed will increase.  This is particularly the case with cancer and nutrition, where a multitude of epidemiological and laboratory studies support the link between a good diet and the food we eat.

For good discussion on this read Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s Anti-Cancer and Dr. Paul Clayton’s Health Defence.  Both detail the extensive research that confirms the connection between cancer and nutrition. I have referred to much of this research in the pages below and other pages of this web site including a cancer fighting diet and cancer prevention diet.

Cancer and Nutrition: What is cancer?
Cancer is a disease where cells defy the normal controls of the body’s immune system and begin to divide uncontrollably, damaging healthy tissue and ultimately spreading to other parts of the body. Eventually, the growing cancer can overwhelm the body.

Cancer and Nutrition – Crank up the Volume on the Fruits and Veg and other Whole Plant Foods

Following a healthy balanced diet is one of the basics of any cancer prevention diet.


However, if you don’t have time to read details about a healthy balanced diet, a cancer prevention diet, or a cancer fighting diet or any of the below, for that matter (you are busy), remember the numero uno  step to up your chances of preventing and surviving cancer is a simple one...


·         … crank up the volume on the number  and variety of fruits and vegetables and other whole plant foods you eat daily. Ensure a portion of each day’s fruit and veg intake is raw.


An apple a day keeps the doctor away is a good first step… but also eat another 8 or 9 more fruit and veg to boost your cancer protection. Studies show that those who consume the greatest number and variety of fruits and vegetables have substantially lower rates of cancer and disease than those who eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

Why is eating a multitude of fruits and veg and whole grains the biggest anti-cancer step you can take when it comes to diet? . . . Scanning the list of anti-cancer nutrients in food, you’ll be struck by how many come exclusively from plant foods.

While high quality diary or meat in moderation can be a healthful part of your cancer prevention diet, if you take care to eat  hormone, pesticide and  antibiotic free low fat varieties, make sure fruits and vegetables and other plant foods like seeds, nuts, beans and whole grains, the least processed the better, have star billing.

Cancer and Nutrition – What Causes Cancer?

While there are many reasons for cancer, four prevailing ones are

1.       Hormonal imbalance

2.       DNA damage from free radicals including carcinogens and toxins

3.       Inflammation

4.       Immune Dysfunction


…. Diet can play a role in preventing or resolving all four.

Cancer and Nutrition – Important Things to Keep in Mind when considering Cancer and Nutrition

By a certain age or during periods  in our life, we likely all harbor cancer cells within us.

These cancers in situ may remain dormant for years or forever, if they are not given the opportunity or encouragement to grow.

What Causes Cancer? Two things needed for normal cells to become cancerous are (1) Damage or mutation to DNA; and (2) Some event or substance to trigger cancer cells to grow.

Autopsies of accident victims show that between ages 40  and 50, 40% of women have microscopic cancers in their breast; between the ages of 50 and 70, 50% of men have microscopic cancer cells in their prostates; and by age 70, 100% of persons have microscopic cancers in their thyroid.

Many of these cancers will never progress because the immune system will destroy or contain these potentially destructive cells. For other of these cancers, the disease may take years before it grows enough, if ever, to be diagnosed or cause symptoms.

The fact that our immune system likely routinely confronts cancer cells, whether we know it or not, confirms there is no time like now to start eating well with cancer prevention in mind.



Cancer and Nutrition – Diets that Promote Cancer

In contrast  to a cancer preventative diet, there are a number of dietary profiles that experts consider cancer promoting.

Minimize the below activities or foods from your diet.


A Cancer Promoting Diet – Foods to Avoid

  1. A diet rich in added sugars
  2. An excess of saturated and hydrogenated fats
  3. A diet with an excess of Omega 6 fats without sufficient Omega 3 fats
  4. A diet low in antioxidant and flavonoid rich fruits and vegetables
  5. A processed food diet low in fiber
  6. A diet laced with carcinogens or toxins



Cancer and Nutrition Lexicon– Carcinogen - any substance that causes or promotes cancer. “Possible carcinogens” are those substances that lab studies show cause cancer. “Known carcinogens” are those that both lab and epidemiological studies show are cancer causing.

Unfortunately, the above diet describes very much the typical Western one – a diet high in saturated and hydrogenated fats, added sugars and highly processed fiber-deficient foods.


Common dietary carcinogens include nitrates found in preserved meats including hotdogs, sausages and bacons; aflatoxin found in fungus infected grains as well as routinely in peanuts including peanut butter; and alcohol, not to mention a smorgasbord of conventional pesticides and fertilizers in which food is grown as well as xynoestrogens from plastics in which food is stored, wrapped and prepared. Some researchers like Colin T Campbell have found the milk protein casein carcinogenic in lab experiments.

Cancer and Nutrition – Variety is the spice of life and the road to the health

Like most dietary strategies for maintaining health and fighting disease, cancer fighting foods work best in concert with other dietary nutrients. This is true whether the aim is to prevent cancer or defeat it, once it takes hold.

You can see this synergistic effect of nutrients working together in the discussion on vitamin C and the anti-oxidant network. Vitamin C amplifies the antioxidant effects of Vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid and vice versa.  The benefits of each antioxidant increase exponentially when taken together. 

Similarly, when it comes to cancer and nutrition, consuming one cancer fighting food to the exclusion of a varied healthy diet or worse, mega-dosing on one or two nutrients in supplement form can, depending on the nutrient, be unhealthy and ineffective at preventing or fighting cancer.  The same goes for taking one or two healthy foods and consuming junk the rest of the time.


When you treat foods or nutrients in isolation, you fall into the pharmaceutical trap of relying on magic bullets to wellness; sadly, with this reductionist approach, you miss the full benefits and gustatory pleasures that a healthy well balanced diet made from exquisitely prepared food can provide;   to prevent illness and support your body during health and sickness.


It is my hope that you use what you’ve read here about cancer and nutrition to savor your food and your health.


For more info about cancer and nutrition and related health and diet issues, check out the below links...

Cancer Prevention

Organic Food

Digestive Enzymes

Cancer Fighting

Cancer Nutrition

Breast Cancer

Lung Cancer



Vitamin C



Vitamin D



Press here to read more about the nuts and bolts of a cancer prevention diet as well as a cancer fighting diet.

Press here for more on the best cancer foods.

Press here for info on a breast cancer diet.

Press here for info on a lung cancer diet.

Press here for anti-cancer barbecue tips.

Press here to read more about the benefits including the anti-cancer properties of an anti-inflammatory diet as well as its link to cancer and nutrition.

Press here to read more about what inflammatory foods you should avoid when you have or seek to prevent cancer.

Press here to read more about the benefits of Omega 3 oils including their anti-cancer and immune-enhancing properties.

Press here to read more about figuring out a food’s anti-oxidant potential using orac values.

Press here to read more about the anti-cancer benefits of vitamin C and the importance of anti-oxidants generally in your diet.



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