If you are reading this you might have a family history of cancer, or worried about your future risk, or have just been diagnosed. Cancer at any age is always significant and difficult news to hear. Food can affect your long term risk of developing some cancers, and this article is about how to reduce your risk of cancer.
Why Cancer Matters to Me
October is breast cancer awareness month. On a personal level, cancer has been a big part of my life. As a former a paediatric oncologist, one of my PhD supervisors discovered BRCA2, a gene involved in inherited breast cancer, my PhD was on cancer, and my family has been very affected by breast cancer.
If You Have Recently Been Diagnosed With Cancer
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, firstly I think that surviving the physical and psychological impact has to be front and foremost. While having a nutritious and balanced diet would be ideal, if all you can manage is cupasoup, know that it’s hopefully only going to be temporary. Food is more than nutrients, so be kind to yourself.
If you are struggling to keep your weight up, change to energy dense foods with healthy fats such as avocado, nut butters and oils. Protein powders can be really helpful to supplement your diet in this situation.
Cancer and Food
Cancer isn’t caused by something you once ate, but long term improvements to your diet may help reduce your long term risk. 18% of bowel cancer is associated with inadequate fibre intake. You can reduce your risk of cancer by 10% for every 10g of fibre you eat every day.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has categorised processed meat such as sausages, bacon, ham and hot dogs as causing bowel cancer. They graded this as Group 1 evidence, where they were certain of the association based on a number of large studies. Try to avoid processed meat that includes nitrites.
Soya and Cancer Risk
There is no good evidence that soya causes breast cancer, but avoid phytoestrogen supplements such as red clover during treatment. This is a really good review of the subtleties of association of phytoestrogens and cancer.
Cancer and Sugar
Cancer cells metabolism sugar in a different way to healthy cells (the Warburg effect). While most people would benefit from a diet lower in sugar, ketogenic or calorie restricted diets need to be viewed in the context of diagnosis and treatment. Some promising evidence has been seen with a specific type of brain tumour called glioma in a research setting, but more information is needed.
Exercise and Cancer
A systemic review found that exercise is safe during and after cancer diagnosis and was associated with improved response rates in breast cancer, with a positive effect on inflammation.
How to Optimise Your Nutrition and Reduce Your Risk of Cancer
Evidence supports that the Mediterranean diet has the greatest positive effect on risk reduction of cancer formation. While low meat diets are considered less likely to induce chronic inflammation. Gut microorganisms are now thought to play an increasingly important role, even effecting response to treatment; another good reason to optimise your gut health.
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