You already know that not smoking, maintaining a healthy
weight, and drinking alcohol in moderation are keys to avoiding cancer. But
what if you want to take cancer prevention one step further? What else can you
do? Simple, say the experts -- eat right.
Though factors outside our control, such as genetics and
environment, do play large roles in the development of cancer, a good diet can
tip the scales in your favor.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the formal ranking system used by the PDQ Editorial Boards to assess evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.
Research shows that dietary patterns are closely associated
with the risk for several types of cancer. The American Cancer Society
estimates that as many as 35% of cancer deaths may be related to dietary
"Diets low in fat and high in fiber, fruits, vegetables,
and grain products are associated with reduced risks for many cancers,"
says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, author of Tell Me What to Eat to Help Avoid
Breast Cancer and Eating Well for a Healthy Menopause, among others.
In one recent two-year study, she says, non-melanomaskin cancer patients on a
20%-of-calories-from-fat diet had five times fewer new skin cancers at the end
of the study compared with patients in the typical 38%-of-calories-from-fat
In another recent study, says Magee, a lower-fat diet appeared
to decrease breast-tissue density in menopausal women, which may decrease
breast cancer risk.
These American Institute for Cancer Research recommendations on
diet and lifestyle can provide a starting point for your own cancer-prevention
Don't eat more than 3 ounces of red meat daily -- about the size of a deck
Limit fatty foods.
Avoid salty snacks, and use herbs and spices instead of salt as
Men should limit alcoholic drinks to two per day; women, to one per
Do not eat charred food.
Avoid being overweight. Limit weight gain during adulthood.
Take an hour's brisk walk (or get equivalent exercise) daily.
Although Americans are slowly adopting healthier diets, a large
gap remains between recommended dietary patterns and what we actually eat.
According to the CDC, only about 25% of adults in the U.S. eat the recommended
five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
"Eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables
every day will do a lot to decrease cancer risk," says Melanie Polk, RD,
director of nutrition for the American Institute of Cancer Research, or
Getting that many servings doesn't have to be hard, says
"Make it simple," she says. "Add a handful of
blueberries to your cereal in the morning. If you're having a sandwich at
lunch, throw in lots of tomato slices as well as lettuce. Broccoli can be added
to soups or sprinkled over pizza with olives, onions, and mushrooms. Instead of
having a packaged snack in the afternoon, have an apple or banana. It all
Plant foods appear to be most protective against cancer. They
are rich in fiber, antioxidants, and helpful phytochemicals.
"Preliminary evidence supports the speculation that
substances in flaxseed may help block substances that promote cancer," says
Magee. "Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and certain plant
foods, including flaxseed, have been shown in animal studies to slow or prevent
the growth of certain cancers."