Diet Choices Can Affect Your Risk of Developing Cancer
Multiple different cancers are up there with the leading causes of death worldwide, and the number of new cases is expected to go up considerably over the next twenty years. At the same time, all types of cancer treatment, whether it be surgery, chemo-therapy, or pharmacological therapy, are evolving in composure, strength and in the accuracy to target specific characteristics of individual cancers. Thus, while many types of cancers may still not be cured, they may be converted to chronic diseases. Most of these treatments, however, are blocked or halted by the all too frequent development of malnutrition and metabolic disorders in cancer patients, induced by the tumor or even sometimes by its treatment. There is increasing evidence that would suggest certain dietary habits can increase or decrease cancer risk. Not just that, nutrition is thought by researchers to make a big difference in treating and learning to cope with cancer as well.
There isn’t any single miracle food out there that can make you immune to cancer, but studies have shown that changing your diet to reflect a healthier lifestyle can reduce your chances of developing this horrible illness. The National Center for Biotechnology Information says, “It has been estimated that 30-40 percent of all cancers can be prevented by lifestyle and dietary measures alone.” (Donaldson). There are many foods to be added to a person’s diet to make them less likely to develop cancer in their lifetime, some of these are generally good choices to prevent all types of cancers, while some have been shown to protect against specific cancers. Observational studies by the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics have connected a higher consumption of vegetables with a decreased risk of cancer; this is supported by the fact that many vegetables contain cancer-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals (“Fruits, vegetables and lung cancer risk”). For instance, cruciferous vegetables including cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower contain a chemical compound called sulforaphane, a substance that has been shown by the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh to reduce tumor size in mice by more than 50% (“Sulforaphane induces caspase-mediated apoptosis”). Other vegetables, for example carrots and tomatoes, have been connected to a reduced risk of lung, prostate and stomach cancer. Much like vegetables, fruits contain antioxidants and other phytochemicals, which could help prevent cancer. A small study by the Department of Preventive Medicine at a University in Korea found that just three servings of citrus fruits every week could reduce stomach cancer risk by up to 28% (“Citrus fruit intake”). Flaxseeds have been long associated with defensive effects against certain cancers and may even reduce the speed at which the cancer spreads. For example, a study by the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at the University of Texas found that men suffering of prostate cancer taking 30 grams of ground flaxseed daily indeed experienced slower cancer growth and spread than another group that hadn’t done so, similar results were found in women with breast cancer (“Flaxseed supplementation”). There are many other foods that can protect against development of cancer, certain spices like cinnamon and turmeric, certain beans, legumes, nuts, olive oil, garlic, fish, and dairy products can all decrease your risk of developing certain cancers in your lifetime.
While there are many foods that can decrease your chances of developing certain cancers, there are also many foods that can increase your likelihood. While it’s beyond difficult to outright prove that specific foods cause cancer, scientific studies have always indicated that a high concentration of certain foods may increase an individual’s likelihood of developing cancer in their lifetime. Processed foods that are often high in sugar content and relatively lower in nutrients and fiber have been found to increase cancer risk, scientific researchers in Italy have concluded that a diet which increases blood glucose levels in high concentration is associated with an increased risk of several cancers, including colorectal, stomach, and breast cancers (“Glycemic index”). A study in Italy of over 47,000 adults found that those who chose to consume a diet higher in refined carbohydrates were nearly two times as likely to die from colon cancer as those who chose to eat a diet lower in refined carbs (“Dietary glycemic”). The risk of an individual with diabetes to develop colorectal cancer is twenty-two percent higher than other individuals, to protect against cancer, it’s imperative to avoid foods that make insulin levels spike. The International Agency for Research on Cancer sees processed meat as a carcinogen, ‘carcinogen’ is a term for something that causes cancer (“Carcinogenicity of consumption”). ‘Processed meat’ refers to meat that has been heavily treated to preserve flavor by undergoing salting, curing or smoking. This category includes hot dogs, ham, bacon, chorizo, salami and even some deli meats. Observational studies have found a link between individuals consuming high volumes of processed meat and a heightened cancer risk, in particular, colorectal cancer. A substantial review of many studies in France found that people who chose to eat large amounts of processed meat had a twenty to fifty-percent increased risk of colorectal cancer when compared to those who chose to eat very little or none of this type of food (“Processed meat and colorectal cancer”). Some recent studies have also connected high volumes of red meat consumption to a heightened cancer risk; however, it’s been found that these studies don’t often distinguish figures between processed meat and unprocessed red meat, which can often skew results. It’s believed by scientists that evidence of red meat alone increasing cancer risk is weak at best, however it’s been found that preparing certain foods at high temperatures, for example grilling, frying, sautéing, broiling and/or barbequing, can sometimes produce harmful compounds called heterocyclic amines. Excess buildup of these harmful compounds in the digestive tract can be a contributor to inflammation and could be a large factor in the development of cancer as well as other diseases. Specific foods, such as animal products that are high in fat and protein, as well as highly processed foods, have an increased risk of producing these harmful amines when introduced to high temperatures. These can include margarine, butter, meat, fried eggs, certain cheeses, mayonnaise, as well as some oils and nuts.
While the foods previously stated have been shown to reduce or increase risk of developing cancer, there are also foods that people who have already developed cancer can eat to increase their likelihood of shaking the illness, or to ease the symptoms. Malnutrition and muscle degeneration are very common in people with cancer, these have a harshly negative impact on health and survival. As stated before, there is no diet that has been proven to cure cancer, adequate nutrition is a vital component to keeping the body strong enough to aid traditional cancer treatments, improve quality of life in the individual, minimize unpleasant symptoms and assist in recovery. Most people who have developed cancer are urged by doctors to stick to a healthy, balanced diet that often includes a healthy amount of lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as one that limits or cuts out any risk factors, such as sugar, caffeine, salt, processed foods and alcohol. A study at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom found that a diet that consists mostly of high-quality calories and proteins may assist in reducing muscle atrophy (“Understanding the mechanisms”). Good sources of protein include fish, beans, nuts, seeds, chicken, eggs, and some dairy products. Some side effects of cancer, and sometimes its treatment, can make it difficult for the individual suffering with the illness to eat. Some of these include nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, taste changes, and trouble swallowing. It’s terrible to think about how hard it is to live with such an affliction. In addition, those diagnosed with cancer should avoid taking too many vitamins, as they can act as antioxidants and can sometimes interfere with chemotherapy when taken in large doses.
Cancer has been and still is a leading cause of death worldwide, with new studies coming to light every year it’s highly likely that more foods will be found with preventative properties against cancer, as well as more risk foods will be found that increase risk of developing cancer. It’s very important for cancer patients to stay healthy and not let themselves wither away, the studies mentioned show that a healthy diet while afflicted with this horrible illness can do wonders when paired with chemotherapy and other treatment options. The information out there about cancer in relation to the food we eat is ever-evolving, but for now it’s known through many studies and observations, that food can affect your likelihood of developing cancer, be that in a positive or negative way.
- Augustin, L S, et al. “Glycemic Index and Load and Risk of Upper Aero-Digestive Tract Neoplasms (Italy).” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14575363.
- Bae, J M, et al. “Citrus Fruit Intake and Stomach Cancer Risk: a Quantitative Systematic Review.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18373174.
- Bouvard, V, et al. “Carcinogenicity of Consumption of Red and Processed Meat.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26514947.
- Demark-Wahnefried, W, et al. “Flaxseed Supplementation (Not Dietary Fat Restriction) Reduces Prostate Cancer Proliferation Rates in Men Presurgery.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19064574.
- Fearon, K, et al. “Understanding the Mechanisms and Treatment Options in Cancer Cachexia.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23207794.
Works Cited (Cont’d)
- Sieri, S, et al. “Dietary Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load and Risk of Colorectal Cancer: Results from the EPIC-Italy Study.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 June 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25403784.
- Singh, A V, et al. “Sulforaphane Induces Caspase-Mediated Apoptosis in Cultured PC-3 Human Prostate Cancer Cells and Retards Growth of PC-3 Xenografts in Vivo.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14514658/.
- Vieira, A R, et al. “Fruits, Vegetables and Lung Cancer Risk: a Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26371287.