Diet and cancer
Up to a third of deaths may be linked to lifestyle factors such as diet, physical activity, and obesity. Another third of deaths are due to tobacco products. Diet, as well as tobacco use, infections, and chemicals or hormones are major risk factors that can be changed. There is strong evidence that eating a healthy diet, being physically active, and achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight can help lower cancer risk.
Fiber and cancer; Cancer and fiber; Nitrates and cancer; Cancer and nitrates
Diet and Breast Cancer
Extra body weight and weight gain are clearly linked to increased risk for women developing breast cancer after menopause. Alcoholic beverage intake is also a factor.
To reduce risk of breast cancer the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends:
- Regular physical activity
- Minimize weight gain through life
- Consume a diet rich in vegetables and fruits
- Avoid or limit intake of alcoholic beverages
Diet and Prostate Cancer
The ACS recommends the following lifestyle choices to reduce prostate cancer risk:
- Eat at least 2 ½ cups of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables each day
- Be physically active
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
Your doctor may suggest that you limit your use of calcium supplements and not exceed the recommended amount of calcium from foods and beverages.
Diet and Colon or Rectal Cancer
The ACS recommends the following to reduce colorectal cancer risk:
- Limit intake of red and processed meat
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Avoid excess alcohol consumption
- Eat recommended amount of calcium and get enough Vitamin D
- Avoid obesity and buildup of belly fat
- Engage in higher intensity physical activity for longer periods
- Get regular colorectal screenings based on your age and health history
Diet and Stomach or Esophageal Cancer
The ACS recommends the following lifestyle choices to reduce stomach and esophageal cancer risk:
- Eat at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables daily
- Lower your intake of processed meats, smoked, nitrite-cured, and salt-preserved foods
- Get regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy body weight
Recommendations for Cancer Prevention
The American Institute for Cancer Research’s ten recommendations for cancer prevention include:
- Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods.
- Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes such as beans.
- Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
- If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
- Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
- Don't use supplements to protect against cancer.
- It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods.
- After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans – www.choosemyplate.gov
The American Cancer Society is an excellent source of information on cancer prevention. www.cancer.org
The American Institute for Cancer Research www.airc.org and www.aicr.org/new-american-plate/
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides sound dietary advice on a wide range of topics. www.eatright.org
The National Cancer Institute's CancerNet is a government gateway to the accurate information on cancer prevention. www.cancer.gov
World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, DC: AICR, 2007.
United States Department of Agriculture. Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2010.
Pierce JP, Natarajan L, Caan BJ, Parker BA, Greenberg, Flatt SW, et al. Influence of a diet very high in vegetables, fruit, and fiber and low in fat on prognosis following treatment for breast cancer: the Women's Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) randomized trial. JAMA. 2007;293;289-298.
A Dahm CC, Keogh RH, Spencer EA, Greenwood DC, Key TJ, Fentiman IS, et al. Dietary fiber and colorectal cancer risk: a nested case-control study using food diaries. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2010;102:614-626.
Larsson SC, Orsini N, Wolk A. Vitamin B6 and risk of colorectal cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. JAMA. 2010;303:1077-1083.
Gaziano JM, Glynn RJ, Christen WG, Kurth T, Belanger C, MacFadyen J, et al. Vitamins E and C in the prevention of prostate and total cancer in men: the Physicians'Health Study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2009;301:52-62.
Kushi LH, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity.CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62:30-67.
Zell JA, Meyskens FL. Cancer prevention, screening, and early detection. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, et al. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 26.
Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.