Keeping Cancer at Bay with Diet
Sharon Salomon, M.S., R.D.
Cancer is stubborn; ask anyone who's had it. You hope it's gone for good and then it comes back. However, thanks to advances in medicine and early detection, the future is much rosier than it used to be for cancer victims. The cancer death rate in this country has declined steadily since the 1990s. The overall survival rate for all cancers for five years is about 65 percent, even more for breast and prostate cancers. There are now over 12 million survivors in the U.S. -- most looking at a variety of strategies to help keep cancer at bay. Below we explore the latest science on lifestyle factors that help prevent cancer recurrence.
What causes cancer?
According to the
Does it matter if you're fat?
Yes, it does -- for all cancers. According to the
Diet-cancer connections. Diet accounts for 25 percent of cancers in developed countries, according to a 2011 review published in
In a 2007 study published in the
Most studies on preventing first cancers show a strong relationship between prevention and eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, while red meat seems to increase cancer risk.
Sugar and cancer scenario.
You might have read that sugar "feeds cancer cells." To most of us, sugar is that white granulated stuff we use to sweeten our foods. But in this case, sugar really means glucose found in blood. Cancer cells use a lot of glucose, so high blood glucose, which is promoted by overweight and refined carbohydrate intake, could contribute to first and recurring cancer risk. People who are overweight may have a condition called insulin resistance that results in higher than normal circulating insulin levels, which can help cancer cells consume glucose and grow.
Because of the glucose/cancer relationship, there has been interest in using the Glycemic Index (GI,) a system that ranks carbohydrate foods according to their effect on blood glucose, to treat cancer survivors. Scientists reported in the 2009 issue of
Do supplements help?
Dietary supplements or single nutrients, including vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, calcium, resveratrol, fiber, and antioxidants like vitamins E and C, as well as food components like soyfoods, coffee, garlic, green tea, cruciferous vegetables (i.e., broccoli and cabbage,) berries, flax, grapes, and spices are under study to see if they can keep cancer survivors healthy longer. To date, however, there are no solid recommendations for using supplements to ward off future cancers, even though as many as 80 percent of cancer survivors report taking supplements during their treatment and recovery.
Remember, more is not always better.
Antioxidants like vitamins C and E that protect healthy cells might also protect cancer cells from destruction by cancer treatments. Soy has been shown to be protective in some cases, but in women with estrogen-dependent cancers, large amounts are controversial because of soy's plant estrogen compounds. AICR recommends against using supplements to prevent cancer. The only exception might be vitamin D, but more research is needed to clarify dosage recommendations.
Surviving chronic disease.
Those who survive cancer are at higher risk for having a second cancer, as well as other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, due to genetic factors and as a consequence of treatment, according to Demark-Wahnefried.
"One thing's for sure; there are no easy or obvious magic bullets with nutrition, foods and dietary supplements," says Dyer. The recommendations for preventing heart disease and diabetes are really no different from those for preventing cancer: eat smart, move more, and stay lean. Collins suggests, "Focus first on priorities of aiming to reach a weight that is healthy and achievable." She recommends that you emphasize regular exercise and eating fruits and vegetables; then, if you'd like to add some new nutritional strategies like drinking green tea, go ahead.
Best-Odds Diet for Fending off Cancer
AICR offers these tips for avoiding cancer recurrence:
-- Choose a diet rich in a variety of plant-based foods.
-- Maintain a healthy weight by eating appropriate portion sizes and being physically active.
-- Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.
-- Select foods low in fat and salt.
-- Prepare and store foods safely.
-- Do not use tobacco in any form.
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