Cancer and Nutrition: Can Food Save Your Life?

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 13, 2012

It may seem like you're always reading about foods that can help protect you from cancer. But what if you already have cancer? Can any foods help you then?

Get Your Fruits and Vegetables

Everyone likely benefits from eating plant-based foods. To add more fruits and vegetables to your diet:

  • Choose meatless meals, such as vegetarian lasagna or a vegetable stir-fry, a few times a week.
  • Snack on carrot sticks, sweet pepper slices, and fresh or dried fruits.
  • Have a leafy green salad with dinner.
  • Drink a 100% fruit or vegetable juice as a snack.

Food and Cancer Treatment

So far, experts don't recommend foods as a way to kill cancer cells. One piece of promising news is garlic may neutralize carcinogens, possibly causing cancer cells to self-destruct.

“Unfortunately, there is no single food that will cure cancer. Still, what you eat is very important,” says Veronica McLymont, PhD, RD, director of food and nutrition services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

While you’re treated for cancer, eat a variety of healthy foods to give your body all the nutrients it needs. Evidence isn’t conclusive, but experts believe that a healthy diet may improve your chance of recovery.

If you drink alcohol and are starting cancer treatment, talk with your doctor about it. Alcohol can interact with some cancer therapies.

Dietary Supplements and Cancer

“When you've been diagnosed with cancer, it's tempting to believe claims that certain dietary supplements will help fight the disease,” says Kim Jordan, RD, nutrition director at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. There’s very little evidence for such claims.

There is good evidence, though, that some dietary supplements can interfere with some cancer treatments. One of them is St. John's wort. Even antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C or E in excessive doses may be risky. Talk to your doctor about any supplements you take or plan to take while undergoing cancer treatment. If you're worried that you may be falling short on essential nutrients, arrange to meet with a dietitian.

Show Sources


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Sarah Rafat, RD, senior dietitian, MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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