Cancer

An estimated 42 percent of cancers are preventable with changes to lifestyle, and diet is a key factor. As many as 80,000 new cancer cases each year are a result of poor diet in the US. A plant-based diet and lifestyle medicine are protective against cancer, can improve cancer treatment outcomes, and could save thousands of lives each year. Discover the foods scientifically proven to help below.

Cases per year

It's estimated there was 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 609,360 cancer deaths in the US in 2022. 1

General frequency

Approximately 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer within their lifetime.

Risk

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and increases the risk of developing comorbidities such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Certain cancers can be managed with a plant-based diet and lifestyle medicine

The results of dietary and lifestyle changes can be so powerful for the prevention, management, and even treatment of cancer. With the right support it can make a real difference to patient outcomes and survival.

Dr Laurie Marbas

Podcasts

Here are some top scientific studies that support the results our clinicians have seen first-hand:

Plant-based diets reduce cancer risk 

Association between a pro plant-based dietary score and cancer risk in the prospective NutriNet-santé cohort

This study included 42,544 men and women and looked at their dietary patterns and incidence of cancer. The researchers found that simply by following a plant based diet, these participants had a 15-30% reduction in cancer compared to those who ate diets higher in animal and processed foods 2.

Cancer risk and dairy consumption 

Dairy consumption and risks of total and site-specific cancers in Chinese adults: an 11-year prospective study of 0.5 million people 

In this study of 0.5 million people, consuming more dairy was associated with an increased risk of liver cancer, female breast cancer and, possibly, lymphoma 3. In a similar study, men consuming the most dairy compared to those consuming the least had a 62% higher risk of developing prostate cancer4

Lifestyle changes may slow cancer progression

Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer 

In this study, patients with prostate cancer were assigned to a plant-based diet or control group. Those following the plant based diet had significantly inhibited growth of their prostate cancer cells, by almost 8 times compared to the control 5

Exercise protects against cancer progression

An Exercise-Induced Metabolic Shield in Distant Organs Blocks Cancer Progression and Metastatic Dissemination 

This study found that exercise protects against the progression and metastasis of existing cancer by reprogramming internal organs. The reprogramming increases the nutrient demand of internal organs and limits nutrient availability to the tumor cells. Exercise was therefore shunting glucose away from the tumor and just like us, without a fuel source cancer cannot continue to grow and function as well making it less likely to spread 6

Information about cancer and managing the risk with lifestyle interventions

What is cancer? 

Cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. It can start almost anywhere in the body. 

Our cells are constantly regenerating, we make lots of new cells when the body needs them, which replace old or damaged cells that die. This proper and orderly process can sometimes break down, where instead of dying the old or damaged cells continue to multiply. These cells may then form a lump of tissue called a tumor, which can be cancerous, or not cancerous (benign).   

Cancerous tumors invade nearby healthy tissues and travel to other parts of the body to form new tumors, this process is called metastasis. Most cancers form solid tumors but some cancers such as blood cancers, do not form solid tumors. 

The term cancer refers to any one of a large number of diseases that are all characterized by this same process. 

Types of cancer

There are over 100 different types of cancer. The most common types of cancer in the US are 1

What causes cancer?

Changes to the genes that control how our cells function, specifically how they grow and divide, causes cancer. In reality, cancer is an incredibly complex disease that involves many different processes taking this, but this is the main cause, and as the cancer continues to grow additional changes occur. 

The genetic changes that cause cancer happen for several reasons: 

  • Errors that occur when the cell divides
  • Damage to the DNA as a result of our harmful toxins from our environment, such as chemicals from tobacco, ultra violet rays from the sun, and carcinogens found in processed red meat 
  • They were inherited that way from your parents 
diagram showing how mutations can slowly overtime result in the formation of cancerous tumors, the example in the diagram is a tumor in the lungs

Symptoms

These are some of the common signs and symptoms that can appear with cancer: 

  • Persistent fatigue or extreme tiredness: caused by cancer cells taking up a lot of the body’s energy
  • Unexplained weight loss, or weight gain, of 10 pounds or more 
  • Loss of appetite, trouble swallowing your food, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting 
  • Swelling, thickening, or lumps anywhere in the body
  • Unexplained, persistent pain anywhere in the body 
  • Changes to the skin: lumps that may bleed or be scaly, changes to moles or the appearance of a new mole
  • Persistent coughing 
  • Changes in your bowel movements, either diarrhea or constipation
  • Changes in your bladder habits, including pain when weeing, blood in your urine, and needing to wee more or less often than usual 
  • Fever or night sweats 
  • Headaches 
  • Problems with your vision
  • Problems with hearing 
  • Mouth changes such as sores, bleeding, and numbness  

Diagnosis 

There are so many different tests a doctor may use to look for and diagnose cancer, and to monitor cancer. These include: 

  • Imaging tests: these make pictures and look at the inside of your body to look for cancer, look for how far cancer has spread, and to determine how successful a cancer treatment is. They include CT Scans, X-rays, MRI scans, and mammograms.
  • Endoscopy procedures: this is a medical procedure, where a doctor will use a tube-like instrument to look inside the body. They include Bronchoscopy, Colonoscopy, Cystoscopy, and Laparoscopy
  • Biopsy tests: Where tissue from a certain area of the body is removed and analyzed for cancer
  • Cytology Tests: a number of cells are removed and analyzed for cancer 

Treatment 

Around the world, approximately 1 million cancer deaths per year are due to poor-quality diets, with 20 million years lost in disability and premature death 7. In the US, A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey study attributed more than 80 000 new cancer cases to a poor diet in 20158. By addressing this root cause with lifestyle interventions, thousands of US lives could be saved, and millions of years lived in good health could be reclaimed. 

There is increasingly strong evidence showing that a whole foods, plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyle factors can have a positive impact on cancer outcomes and survival. For example, plant-based diets are rich in fiber and are related to a healthier gut microbiome, which significantly impacts the functioning of the immune system. In turn, healthier gut microbiomes can improve the response to certain anti-cancer treatments 9

Plant-based diets also reduce levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 levels, insulin resistance, and inflammation, all of which are part of cancer progression. Plant foods also have protective elements such as high levels of fiber, phytochemicals, short chain fatty acids, and various vitamins and minerals 10

There is a lack of education on the extent that diet and lifestyle factors impact on cancer risk, a survey found that less than 50% of American adults are aware that processed red meat is a direct cause of cancer and that fruit, vegetables and fiber are protective. It is therefore crucial that medical experts help patients at risk of cancer to understand and implement the ways to reduce our cancer risk, and support patients with cancer to get the best out of their treatment. 

Useful links

Inspiring books

Think you or a loved one may be struggling with this? Join today to make a change. 

References

1. Siegel, R. L., Miller, K. D., Fuchs, H. E. & Jemal, A. Cancer statistics, 2022. CA. Cancer J. Clin. 72, 7–33 (2022).

2. Kane-Diallo, A. et al. Association between a pro plant-based dietary score and cancer risk in the prospective NutriNet-santé cohort: Pro-animal/vegetable score and cancer risk. Int. J. Cancer 143, 2168–2176 (2018).

3. Kakkoura, M. G. et al. Dairy consumption and risks of total and site-specific cancers in Chinese adults: an 11-year prospective study of 0.5 million people. BMC Med. 20, 134 (2022).

4. Orlich, M. J. et al. Dairy foods, calcium intakes, and risk of incident prostate cancer in Adventist Health Study–2. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. nqac093 (2022) doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqac093.

5. Ornish, D. et al. INTENSIVE LIFESTYLE CHANGES MAY AFFECT THE PROGRESSION OF PROSTATE CANCER. J. Urol. 174, 1065–1070 (2005).

6. Sheinboim, D. et al. An Exercise-Induced Metabolic Shield in Distant Organs Blocks Cancer Progression and Metastatic Dissemination. Cancer Res. 82, 4164–4178 (2022).

7. Afshin, A. et al. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet 393, 1958–1972 (2019).

8. Zhang, F. F. et al. Preventable Cancer Burden Associated With Poor Diet in the United States. JNCI Cancer Spectr. 3, pkz034 (2019).

9. Lee, K. A. et al. The gut microbiome: what the oncologist ought to know. Br. J. Cancer 125, 1197–1209 (2021).

10. Shah, U. A. & Iyengar, N. M. Plant-Based and Ketogenic Diets As Diverging Paths to Address Cancer: A Review. JAMA Oncol. (2022) doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2022.1769.

Setup a free 30 min consultation with our medical team

Join virtual medical groups led by plant-based physicians to address, treat and reverse the root causes of chronic diseases.

Schedule a free consultation

Our services are likely covered by your health insurance provider and billed as a standard visit, while our cash pay plans are on average thousands cheaper than alternatives.