Diet clues to surviving cancer
When it comes to dietary choices for people who have survived cancer, key themes emerge to show that a healthy diet is just as important.
Cancer is a major disease killer. Thanks to earlier detection and improved treatments, more and more people are surviving a cancer diagnosis and going on to live long lives.
Well-supported diet and lifestyle recommendations are already in place suggesting how a person can lower their risk of developing cancer. Less evidence exists though to make clear recommendations for diet recommendations for cancer survivors.
There are comparatively fewer studies surveying the diet and lifestyle habits of cancer survivors. Only a few key cancers have been studied and results can appear contradictory. Further complicating things, some studies only looked at pre-diagnosis diet while others examined post-diagnosis diet.
With the mixed research field of diet among cancer survivors, a German research team collated together 117 studies involving over 200,000 cancer survivors into a single meta-analysis. What they found was perhaps not too surprising.
Higher consumption of vegetables and fish had a favourable link with longer survival. Alcohol was linked with a worse outlook.
Grouping together whole diets, researchers found that one type of diet stood out. Termed wholefoods, prudent or healthy depending on the study, a common theme was a dietary pattern high in fruit and vegetables and wholegrains, and low in red processed meat, refined grains and high-fat foods. Eating around this dietary pattern was linked to a 22 percent lower risk of earlier death.
A Western diet, high-fat diet or high-sugar snacks diet or simply, an unhealthy diet, was classified as the opposite of this healthy diet. Comprised of processed meat, refined grains and lots of added sugar, this diet was linked with a higher mortality risk from cancer of almost 50 percent compared to similar people following a healthier diet.
Greater numbers of people are surviving cancer today.
Dietary patterns that are closely connected to foods near to their natural state such as fruits, vegetables, fish and wholegrains currently sit at the top of evidence recommendation for people with cancer to follow.
Last Reviewed: 18/11/2019
Norman Swan Medical Communications
Schwedhelm C et al. Effect of diet on mortality and cancer recurrence among cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies. Nutrition Reviews 2016;74:737-748.