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Diet and cancer

Definition

Diet can have an impact on your risk of many types of cancer. You can reduce your overall risk by following a healthy diet that includes plenty fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Alternative Names

Fiber and cancer; Cancer and fiber; Nitrates and cancer; Cancer and nitrates

Information

DIET AND BREAST CANCER

The link between nutrition and breast cancer has been well studied. To reduce risk of breast cancer the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that you:

  • Get regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day 5 times a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consume at least 2½ cups (300 grams) of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than 2 drinks for men; 1 drink for women. One drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces (360 milliliters) beer, 1 ounce (30 milliliters) spirits, or 4 ounces (120 milliliters) wine.

Other things to consider:

  • High soy intake (in the form of supplements) is controversial in women diagnosed with hormone-sensitive cancers. Consuming a diet that contains moderate amounts of soy foods before adulthood may be beneficial.
  • Breastfeeding may reduce a mother's risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

DIET AND PROSTATE CANCER

The ACS recommends the following lifestyle choices to reduce prostate cancer risk:

  • Get regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day five times a week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout life
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consume at least 2½ cups (300 grams) of fruits and vegetables daily
  • Limit alcoholic beverages to no more than 2 drinks for men. One drink is the equivalent of 12 ounces (360 milliliters) beer, 1 ounce (30 milliliters) spirits, or 4 ounces (120 milliliters) wine.

Other things to consider:

  • Your health care provider may suggest that men limit their 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. Avoid charbroiling meat.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consume at least 2½ cups (300 grams) of fruits and vegetables daily. Broccoli may be particularly beneficial.
  • Avoid excess alcohol consumption.
  • Eat recommended amounts of calcium and get enough Vitamin D.
  • Eat more omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts) than omega-6 fatty acids (corn oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil).
  • Maintain a healthy weight throughout life. 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 a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Consume at least 2½ cups (300 grams) of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Lower your intake of processed meats, smoked, nitrite-cured, and salt-preserved foods; emphasize plant-based proteins.
  • Get regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes a day 5 times a week
  • Maintain a healthy body weight throughout life.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CANCER PREVENTION

The American Institute for Cancer Research's 10 recommendations for cancer prevention include:

  1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
  3. Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods. (Artificial sweeteners in moderate amounts have not been shown to cause cancer.)
  4. Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes such as beans.
  5. Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
  6. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
  7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
  8. DO NOT use supplements to protect against cancer.
  9. It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods.
  10. After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

RESOURCES

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.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

References

Bevers TB, Brown PH, Colbert Maresso K, Hawk ET. Cancer prevention, screening, and early detection. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 23.

Kumar V, Abbas AK, Aster JC. Environmental and nutritional diseases. In: Kumar V, Abbas AK, Aster JC, eds. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 9.

Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al; American Cancer Society 2010 Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 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(1):30-67. PMID: 22237782 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22237782.

National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute website. SEER training modules, cancer risk factors. training.seer.cancer.gov/disease/cancer/risk.html. Accessed July 13, 2017.

US Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/pdfs/scientific-report-of-the-2015-dietary-guidelines-advisory-committee.pdf. Published January 28, 2015. Accessed July 13, 2017.

US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/. Published December 2015. Accessed July 13, 2017.


Review Date: 5/7/2017
Reviewed By: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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