Nutrition for Life - 2017

Cancer: Prevention and Survival

By Parul Kharod

According to the World Health Organization, four non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – cancers, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and diabetes – are responsible for 80% of all deaths from NCDs worldwide. There were an estimated 14.1 million cancer cases around the world in 2012, of these 7.4 million cases were in men and 6.7 million in women. This number is expected to increase to 24 million by 2035.

What is cancer?

Cancer begins as a single abnormal cell that begins to multiply out of control. Groups of such cells form tumors and invade healthy tissue, often spreading to other parts of the body. Carcinogens are substances that promote the development of cancerous cells. They may come from foods, from the air, or even from within the body. Most carcinogens are neutralized before damage can occur, but sometimes they attack the cell's genetic material (DNA) and alter it. It takes years for a noticeable tumor to develop. During this time, compounds known as inhibitors can keep the cells from growing, while there are other factors that may actually promote the growth of tumors.

For a majority of the population, heart disease still remains the number one cause of death. However, uniquely for Asian Americans in the US, cancer is found to be the leading cause.

Asian Americans experience proportionally higher rates of cancers from infectious origin, such as liver cancer, cervical cancer, and stomach cancer. In addition, Asian Americans increasingly are acquiring cancers associated with migration to the United States and “Westernization" such as those attributed to diet and sedentary living.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), 50% of the most common cancers can be prevented. AICR estimates that these common cancers could be prevented if we moved more, weighed less and ate more healthfully.

AICR's Three Main Strategies for Cancer Prevention:

1. Eat mostly plant-based foods, which are low in energy density
2. Be physically active
3. Maintain a healthy weight (which may be possible by following the previous two strategies)

The link between diet and cancer is not new. In January of 1892, Scientific American printed the observation that “cancer is most frequent among those branches of the human race where carnivorous habits prevail." Numerous research studies have since shown that cancer is much more common in populations consuming diets rich in fatty foods, particularly meat, and much less common in countries with diets rich in grains, vegetables, and fruits.

Risk Factors for cancer (in alphabetical order): Several studies have shown a direct link between these risk factors and increased prevalence of cancer.

• Alcohol
• Animal protein
• Chemicals/Toxins
• Fat
• Sugar
• Tobacco

Foods that fight cancer: The foods that are high in fiber, low in fat, and have high amounts of anti-oxidant and phytochemical compounds are best for cancer prevention:

• Beans (legumes)
• Berries
• Cruciferous Vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts)
• Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
• Yellow and Orange Fruits/Veg.
• Flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts
• Ginger and Garlic
• Grapes
• Green Tea
• Soy
• Tomatoes
• Whole Grains

Recommendations for Cancer Prevention: According to a published research report by AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund, here are ten recommendations for cancer prevention.

1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. Limit sedentary habits.
3. Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods.
4. Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.
5. Limit consumption of animal proteins; avoid red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid all processed meats. Limit dairy.
6. Avoid or at least limit alcohol.
7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
8. Don't use supplements to protect against cancer.
9. Get proper vaccinations
10. Do not smoke or chew tobacco.

Tips for Cancer Survivors:

For cancer survivors, eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy body weight are very important. Eating well can help with regaining strength, rebuilding tissue, and feeling better overall. Research also suggests that proper nutrition, physical activity and weight control may improve survival and may reduce the risk of cancer recurring. Additionally, physical activity and diet quality have been associated with higher quality of life, improved function, and lower risk of other illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis or diabetes. Along with proper recommended treatment, survivors should follow the same prevention guidelines to avoid recurrence.


The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine
The American Institute for Cancer Research
The National Center for Reducing Asian American Cancer Health Disparities

-- Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at