Diet is an important modifiable risk factor for changing the risk of cancer. Knowing just how much individual foods and diets can change cancer risk is an important exercise to do for determining evidence-based priorities for nutrition policies to cut the burden of cancer.

A diet and cancer modelling study has just been published in the United States and has relevance to many comparable Western countries (because they have similar diets and cancer burdens). The research team looked at national dietary intake data and combined this with cancer incidence. They then tied all this together with the known associations between diet and cancer.

How food choices can cut cancer risk

Looking at seven key dietary factors, the total contribution to the cancer burden was five percent of all cases over a year. This number is on par for cancer burden attributable to alcohol which is four to six percent. Overweight and obesity had a slightly higher cancer burden of seven to eight percent of the cases of cancer with physical inactivity coming in at two to three percent.

Low consumption of wholegrain and dairy foods and high consumption of processed meats were the key diet contributors to cancer burden. Low consumption of fruits and vegetables and too much red meat and sugar-sweetened beverages were the other important diet factors.

For specific types of cancer, it was colorectal cancer that stood out as being the one most influenced by poor diet with 38 percent of cases linked to nutrition. This was followed by cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx where diet plays a role in 26 percent of all cases. Middle-aged men and racial and ethnic minority groups experienced the largest proportion of diet-associated cancer burden.

Implications

Diet is one factor that is well within the control of a person to change when it comes to reducing the risk of cancer. Having plenty of wholegrains, fruits and vegetables together with dairy foods if a person chooses to have them while cutting back on red meat and sugary drinks is where the greatest health wins are to be found.

Last Reviewed: 07/08/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Zhang FF et al. Preventable cancer burden associated with dietary intake in the United States. JNCI Cancer Spectrum 2019;3(2): pkz034.

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