Nutrition & Cancer

It is estimated that one-third of cancer patients try some form of nontraditional therapy during or after their battle with cancer. The true percentage may actually be much higher.

Dietary modifications and, to a lesser extent, nutritional supplements can play an important role in preventing some types of cancer. The role of nutritional interventions in treating cancer is less clear, although there is some evidence that nutritional supplements and other naturally occurring substances can increase survival, improve quality of life, or decrease the adverse effects of chemotherapy and radiation in some instances.

With regard to cancer treatment, the potential benefits of these interventions must be weighed against the possibility that some of them might interfere with the anticancer effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In addition, because nutritional treatments are relatively free of adverse effects, there is a risk that some patients will reject toxic but effective conventional therapy and instead pursue safe but ineffective alternatives. It is therefore important that practitioners and patients be well informed and use good judgment in their choice of cancer treatments.



More than 30% of all cancer deaths are attributable to smoking.

Exposure to various pesticides has been linked to a number of different cancers.

Bisphenol A
Found in beverage containers/plastics. Shown to have estrogenic activity, and may promote the development of breast cancer and other hormone dependent cancers.

Immediate family member with cancer
Two to threefold increased risk of developing same type of cancer.

Electromagnetic radiation
Significant radiation from any source increases risk of cancer.

Not eating fish or not taking a fish oil supplement
During 30 years of follow-up, men who ate NO fish had a two to threefold higher frequency of prostate cancer.

Red meat consumption
Consumption of very well-done meat (meat cooked at high temps.-grilling) had three times the risk of stomach/prostate/colorectal/breast/pancreatic cancers compared to those who ate their beef rare or medium rare. People who ate beef four+ times/week had twice the risk of stomach cancer.

Processed meats
Associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer. Nitrates/nitrites react with amines in the stomach to form nitrosamines.

Low consumption of fruits/vegetables
Fruits and vegetables have an array of cancer fighting compounds.

Chlorinated water
Observational studies have shown that consumption of chlorinated drinking water was associated with increased risk of cancers of the bladder, colon, rectum, esophagus, and breast.

Being overweight is associated with increased risk of developing cancer of the colon, prostate, breast, endometrium, kidney, and gallbladder. For pancreatic cancer it’s a 50-60% increased risk. People with the highest body mass index have a 1.9-fold increase in cancer risk.

Consumption of sugar
Above average consumption of sucrose in associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Increased risk due to suppression of immune system.

Diesel emissions
Increased risk

Dairy (>1 serving/day)
Women who consumed the highest amount of lactose had a 44% greater risk for all types of invasive ovarian cancer. Men who consumed 2.5 servings a day had a 50% increased risk of prostate cancer.

Refined flour
Increased risk

Polyunsaturated oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soy, etc.…)
Women who consumed the most polyunsaturated fats were 20% more likely to develop breast cancer.

Men who consumed 21-41 drinks/week had the highest relative risk.

Vitamin D
Those with the lowest levels have a two to threefold increased risk of most cancers.


Women who took multivitamin supplements containing folic acid for more that 15 years were 75% less likely to develop colon cancer. In the Physicians Health Study II trial it was concluded that vitamins “modestly but significantly reduced the risk of total cancer”.

Antioxidant Supplements
European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study. This large study on 23,943 subjects who took antioxidant vitamin supplements over an average of 11 years showed that individuals who used antioxidant multivitamins were 48% less likely to die from cancer and 42% less likely to die due to any cause compared to those who did not take antioxidant vitamins.

Fluid Consumption
Consuming >2.5 liters of fluid/day resulted in a 49% lower incidence of bladder cancer.

Supplementation is associated with reductions in incidence of all cancers, especially lung, colorectal, and prostate. Associated with a 50% decreased risk of mortality from cancer.

Fish consumption (also supplementation)
Decreased risk of prostate cancer. May slow the rate at which cancer spreads. In one study, 6 grams/day resulted in enhancement of immune function and length of survival.

Vegetables (brassica family)
Protective against cancers of the lung, stomach, colon and rectum.

Legume or Soy Milk Consumption (>5 servings)
Associated with a 70% reduction in prostate cancer risk.

Associated with a reduction in prostate cancer risk.

Exercise (>5 hours/week)
Cancer risk is reduced by 40-50% among the most active.

Vegetable consumption (>4 servings/day)
Decreases cancer risk.

Vitamin E (400IU/day)
Decreased rate of prostate cancer by 32% and bladder cancer by 30%.

Green Tea (>3 cups/day or 300mg extract/day)
Decreased recurrence of breast cancer. Consumption of >10 cups/day decreased rate of all cancers.

Garlic (>5 cloves/week)
Reduces colorectal cancer risk.

Olive Oil (>1 tbsp/day)
Women had a 25% lower risk of breast cancer.

Wine (1-13 glasses/week)
Decreased risk

Whole grains
Reduced risk of colon cancer.

Fruit (>2 servings/day)
Reduced colon cancer risk.

Vitamin D (2,000-4,000 IU/day)
Reduces risk of all cancers, strengthens the immune system and increases bone density. May be the most important supplement for fighting cancer. It’s now linked to the prevention or improved survival rate of several cancers including breast, prostate, lung, colon, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and pancreatic. Get your levels checked (25-OH vit. D).

Known for its protective effects against inflammation, turmeric may work against multiple types of cancer through a variety of mechanisms-inhibition of epidermal growth factor (EGF), inhibition of Fibroblast growth factor, inhibition of nuclear factor kappa beta, increases nuclear p53, inhibition of cyclooxygenase 2.
This spice is well tolerated; dosage recommendations are 500-1000mg daily.

Fiber supplements (flax, psyllium, bran)
Protective against breast and colon cancers. Colon cancer is rare in countries where dietary fiber intake is high.

Medicinal mushrooms (maitake, shitake, reishi)
Highly regarded in the Far East, especially Japan, where they have been the subject of clinical study (AHCC). These mushrooms have immune enhancing, anti-tumor properties. The body’s immune cells are responsible for traveling through the body, scavenging any cells that look suspicious (cancer cells). Maintaining a strong immune system may help the body be better prepared to fight cells undergoing cancerous changes.

Green Tea
Protective against low-grade B cell malignancies, prostate and colorectal cancers. Polyphenols known as catechins (ECGC) that are present in green tea have demonstrated anticancer effects in animals and in vitro. May reduce incidence of prostate cancer in men with high-grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasia. Studies have shown treatment with green tea prevented the development of new colorectal adenomas in patients with a history of colorectal cancer.

Acts as an anti-estrogen and inhibits the growth of cancer cells.

Demonstrated anti-cancer activity.

Vitamin C
Protects against cancer cell growth by: destroying free radicals, increasing collagen synthesis, altering DNA and protein metabolism in precancerous and cancerous cells, preventing the transformation of precancerous cells to cancerous cells, producing cytotoxicity in cancer cells.

Coenzyme Q10
Helps to generate energy at the cellular level. Enhances immune function, may have value for preventing or treating cancer.

Antioxidant activity and enhancement of immune function.

These supplements reinforce the gut’s critical bacterial flora. The so-called “good bacteria” are major elements in the immune system. They neutralize pro-carcinogenic substances, fight off pathogens and protect the vital digestive process that converts food into nutrients required to run the body. Studies show that these supplements can lessen the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.


Reviews of human, animal, and in vitro research have concluded that antioxidant supplements can prevent some of the side effects of chemotherapy without, in most cases, interfering with its anticancer effect. There is evidence to suggest that in some situations the benefits may outweigh the risks for administration of specific antioxidants-vitamin E, N-acetylcysteine (glutathione), glutamine, and selenium.

Shown to reduce the side effects of chemo including nephrotoxicity, bone marrow suppression, infections, hair loss, GI symptoms, and muscle damage

Reported to decrease side effects of chemo-1,800 mg/day reduced incidence of nausea and vomiting in patients with lung cancer.

Vitamin E
Decreased the incidence and severity of neurotoxicity in patients receiving cisplatin.

Can reduce side effect of peripheral neuropathy and mucositis. Protects against oral and gastro. toxicity of chemotherapy

Deficiency is common in cancer patients and can contribute to impaired immune function. Can increase appetite.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Individuals should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The statements made in this informational document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product discussed is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.