The Importance of Nutrition in Cancer Prevention & Treatment (2023)

Diet and Cancer

February 28, 2019 by *ASN Member Contributor

The Importance of Nutrition in Cancer Prevention & Treatment (1)

Guest Post by Kirsten Halbrich Oudin, ASN’s Dietetic Intern

I am a dietetic intern with the American Society for Nutrition for the month of February 2019. February also happens to be National Cancer Prevention Month which hits very close to home because my father lost his battle with lung cancer in November 2016 at 61 years young. It is kismet that my rotation lined up with this month’s blog entry on the linkages between nutrition and cancer, specifically related to prevention and adverse reactions to treatment. As an aspiring Registered Dietitian, I heavily researched diets to help my dad as he went through the difficult diagnosis and treatment. What I found was that every cancer is different, that’s obvious; however, no matter the type of cancer, mechanism of onset, or even genetic predisposition, a well-balanced diet, coupled with regular exercise, is paramount for cancer prevention as well as treatment.

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Nutrition for Cancer Prevention

According to the World Health Organization, “between 30–50% of cancers can currently be prevented by avoiding risk factors and implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies.” Among these evidence-based strategies are the 2012 American Cancer Society (ACS) Guidelines for Cancer Prevention which have a strong correlation between increased adherence to diet recommendations and decreased cancer mortality. See below for detailed diet recommendations.

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2012 ACS Guidelines – Nutrition Recommendations for Individual Choices:

Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant foods.

(Video) Nutrition and Cancer Prevention

Choose foods & beverages in amounts that help achieve & maintain a healthy weight.

  • Read food labels to become more aware of portion sizes & calories consumed. Be aware that “low fat” or “nonfat” does not necessarily mean “low calorie”.
  • Eat smaller portions of high-calorie foods.
  • Choose vegetables, whole fruits, and other low-calorie foods instead of calorie-dense foods such as French fries, chips, ice cream, doughnuts, and other sweets.
  • Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (soft, sports, & fruit-flavored drinks).
  • If eating out, select foods lower in calories, fat & added sugar and avoid large portion sizes.

Limit consumption of processed meats & red meats. *Consumption of processed meats and meats preserved by methods involving smoke or salt increases exposure to potentially carcinogenic chemicals, and therefore should be minimized.

  • Minimize consumption of processed meats such as bacon, sausage, lunchmeats, and hot dogs.
  • Choose fish, poultry, or beans as an alternative to red meat (beef, pork, and lamb).
  • Bake, broil, or poach meats, poultry and fish instead of frying or charbroiling.

Eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables & fruits each day.

  • Include vegetables and fruits at every meal and for snacks.
  • Eat a variety of egetables & fruits each day.
  • Emphasize whole vegetables & fruits; choose 100% juice if you drink vegetable or fruit juices.
  • Limit consumption of creamy sauces, dressing, and dips with vegetables & fruits.

Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products.

  • Choose whole-grain foods such as whole-grain breads, pasta, cereals (barley & oats) instead of those made from refined grains; and brown rice instead of white rice.
  • Limit consumption of other refined carbohydrate foods, including pastries, candy, sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, and other high-sugar foods.

If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.

  • Drink no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 per day for men.

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Nutrition During Cancer Treatment

There have never been so many different options of cancer treatments available from chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to immunotherapy, hormone therapy and clinical trials. With additional treatment options comes the potential for additional side effects. Many of these side effects can be combatted with appropriate diet therapy. The main nutrients to focus on during cancer treatment are protein, carbohydrates, fats, water, vitamins & minerals. Protein needs often increase to support muscle strengthening and maintenance for resisting infections, recovering from illnesses, and repairing tissues. Carbohydrate sources are essential, choosing whole grains and complex carbs over empty carbs and sweets promote sustainable energy and nutrient-dense foods. Fat sources of “healthy” mono- and polyunsaturated fats over “unhealthy” saturated and trans fats promote heart health and cholesterol management. Water is vital, especially if experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, often increasing fluid needs beyond the standard 64 fluid ounces daily to maintain homeostasis and replenish cellular health. Fluid needs are not limited to water and may include soup, broth, milk and gelatin. Vitamin & mineral needs may also increase, especially if experiencing decreased appetite, making multivitamins or mineral supplements suitable alternatives for sources of the essential nutrients the body systems need to promote energy.

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(Video) 🎗The Role of Nutrition in Cancer Prevention

*Consult a Doctor and/or Registered Dietitian before adding supplements or altering diet in any way. Type of cancer, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment are critical for determining appropriate dietary action.

Emerging Cancer Nutrition Research

There are many emerging trends, evolving research, fads and fables circulating around the role nutrition plays in relation to cancer. Some of these are unsupported rumors with little to no evidence to back them up such as the myth that coffee is directly related to an increased risk of cancer and therefore requires a “May cause cancer” disclaimer at certain coffee shops. Another common misconception is that dietary supplements are equivalent to whole food sources; however, particularly with regards to cancer prevention, antioxidants, vitamins & minerals should ideally be consumed as part of the diet (if possible). The chart below briefly reviews additional food items thought to effect cancer risk.

Food CategoryIncreased Risk of Cancer?Reduced Risk of Cancer?Additional Info
Nonnutritive Sweeteners & Sugar SubstitutesInconclusiveXSafe when consumed in moderation
Pesticides & HerbicidesNot in low doses found in most cropsXWash fruits & veggies before eating
PhytochemicalsXInconclusiveBest ingested in whole foods, not supplements
SaltInconclusiveXLess salt cured/pickled food may prevent some cancers
SeleniumXInconclusiveThin line between safe & toxic dose (200 μg daily UL)
Soy ProductsXMay reduce risk of breast, prostate, or endometrium cancersTraditional soy products (tofu) not isolated soy protein supplements
SugarMay indirectly increase cancer risk via obesityXDue to high caloric content and no nutritive value
TeaXInconclusiveSource of antioxidants, polyphenols and flavonoids
Trans FatsInconclusiveXMinimize intake for overall heart health
Turmeric & Other SpicesXInconclusiveRolling studies on turmeric, capsaicin, cumin and curry
Fruit & VeggiesXMay reduce risk of lung, mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach and colorectal cancersSpecific anticancer compounds present in fruits and veggies are still unknown
Vegetarian DietsXMixed findings: Yes in UK;

Inconclusive in US

May need to supplement B12, Zinc, Iron & Calcium
Vitamin A (supplement)High doses may increase lung cancer riskNoPromotes tissue health
Vitamin CXYes in food sources;

No in supplement form

Vitamin C rich foods are favored over supplements
Vitamin DXMay reduce risk of colorectal cancerMany people in America do not get enough Vitamin D
Vitamin E (supplement)1 study showed increased risk of prostate cancerNoNot recommended to deter cancer or chronic diseases
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Other Food Related Risk Factors:

  • Food Additives & Contaminants may increase the risk for certain types of cancers through agricultural exposure to growth hormones and endocrine disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates; unintentional chemical or environmental fungal contamination; and elemental carcinogen transfers through soil, water, and food supplies (i.e., heavy metal, cadmium, or mercury). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared that any new, intentional additives must be tested and cleared prior to public distribution.
  • Food Processing has both positive and negative effects on cancer risk. Freezing and canning can promote bioactivity in fruits and vegetables which decrease risk of certain cancers. However, refined grains have removed the dietary fiber that helps to lower cancer risk; and preserved meats with added salt and nitrites are higher in carcinogens, a known cause of cancer.
  • Microbial Food Safety involves food irradiation to reduce microbial contamination and food poisoning; although radiation is a known carcinogen it does not have the same effects on food as it does on a living person.
  • Organic Foods are not supported by evidence to be a better or worse choice than conventional foods so continue making vegetables, whole grains, and fruits the focus of all meals or snacks regardless of growth method.

Sample Recipes:

Professional Resources:

(Video) Nutrition for Cancer Prevention & Treatment

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The Importance of Nutrition in Cancer Prevention & Treatment (6)

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  1. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Dietary intake and blood concentrations of antioxidants and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018;108(5):1069-1091.
  2. Demark-Wahnefried W, Rogers LQ, Alfano CM, et al. Practical clinical interventions for diet, physical activity, and weight control in cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65(3):167-189.
  3. Goulão B, Stewart F, Ford JA, et al. Cancer and vitamin D supplementation: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018;107(4):652-663.
  4. Jayedi A, Emadi A, Shab-Bidar S. Dietary Inflammatory Index and Site-Specific Cancer Risk: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis. Adv Nutr. 2018;9(4):388-403.
  5. Kim YI. Folate and cancer: a tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Am J Clin Nutr. 2018;107(2):139-142.
  6. Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention: Reducing the risk of cancer with healthy food choices and physical activity. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012;62(1):30-67.
  7. McCullough ML, Patel AV, Kushi LH, et al.Following cancer prevention guidelines reduces risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all‐cause mortality.Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev.2011;20(6):1089‐1097.
  8. Schoenfeld JD, Ioannidis JPA. Is everything we eat associated with cancer? A systematic cookbook review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(1):127-134.
  9. The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. Benefits of good nutrition during cancer treatment. Last Revised July 15, 2015.
  10. Cancer: Cancer Prevention. World Health Organization. 2019.
  11. Cancer: Key Facts. World Health Organization. 12 September 2018.
  12. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Cancer Fact Sheets: All Cancers. World Health Organization.
  13. International Agency for Research on Cancer. World Cancer Report 2014. World Health Organization.

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(Video) The Role of Nutrition in Cancer Prevention, Treatment, and Survivorship

*ASN Member Contributor

(Video) The Importance of Nutrition in Cancer Prevention & Treatment


What is the importance of nutrition in cancer prevention & treatment? ›

Healthy eating habits are important during and after cancer treatment. A diet with a focus on plant-based foods along with regular exercise will help cancer patients keep a healthy body weight, maintain strength, and decrease side effects both during and after treatment.

Why is it important to eat healthy to prevent cancer? ›

Having too much sugary food and drink, or food high in calories (including fast food) can make it easier to gain weight. Obesity is a cause of 13 different types of cancer. Having a healthy diet helps you keep a healthy weight, or lose weight, which can reduce the risk of cancer.

What is the goal of nutrition care in cancer? ›

There are three main goals of nutrition therapy for cancer patients in active treatment and recovery. The main goals of nutrition therapy for patients in active treatment and recovery are to provide nutrients that are missing, maintain nutritional health, and prevent problems.

What is the role of nutrition in cancer development? ›

What role does nutrition play during cancer treatment? A healthy and well-balanced diet that provides adequate nutrition is an important part of cancer treatment. Proper nutrition provides patients with the ability to recover between cancer treatments, and as a result, improve their quality of life.

What is the most important way to prevent cancer? ›

You can reduce your risk of getting cancer by making healthy choices like keeping a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and protecting your skin.

What is the main purpose of nutrition care? ›

Nutritional care is defined as the basic duty to provide adequate and appropriate food and drinks to the patients.

What is good nutrition for cancer recovery? ›

These include prune juice, pineapple juice and hot drinks in the morning. High fibre foods include beans, peas, nuts, dried fruit, raw fruits and vegetables, and whole grain cereals and breads. If constipation is making you bloated, avoid foods like beans, broccoli, cauliflower and carbonated drinks.

Why is nutrition important in patient care? ›

Proper nutrition is necessary to heal wounds, control chronic illnesses, and build or maintain strength. But many Americans are malnourished—either undernourished or overnourished that is, overweight or obese). Adequate and balanced nutrients are needed to heal from disease and remain at the optimal level of health.

What nutritional habits are related to cancer? ›

A diet high in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein may prevent cancer. Conversely, processed meats, refined carbs, salt and alcohol may increase your risk. Though no diet has been proven to cure cancer, plant-based and keto diets may lower your risk or benefit treatment.

What food can prevent cancer? ›

"Cancer-fighting foods"

The list is usually topped with berries, broccoli, tomatoes, walnuts, grapes and other vegetables, fruits and nuts. "If you look at the typical foods that reduce cancer risk, it's pretty much all plant foods that contain phytochemicals," says Wohlford.

What is the secret to prevent cancer? ›

Having healthy food and drink can reduce your risk of cancer. Aim to have plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods high in fibre and healthy proteins. Cut down on processed and red meat, alcohol and high calorie foods and drinks.

What is the number one cause and prevention of cancer? ›

Leading risk factors for preventable cancers are smoking, getting too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds, being overweight or having obesity, and drinking too much alcohol.

What foods stop cancer cells from growing? ›

Beans, Legumes and Soy

Protease inhibitors, which may slow tumor growth. Phytates, which may help prevent or slow certain cancers. Manganese, which helps form an enzyme that protects cells from damage.

What stops cancer cells from growing? ›

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) block chemical messengers (enzymes) called tyrosine kinases. Tyrosine kinases help to send growth signals in cells, so blocking them stops the cell growing and dividing. Cancer growth blockers can block one type of tyrosine kinase or more than one type.

What kills cancer cells in the body? ›

Oncolytic viruses kill individual cancer cells, but studies also suggest that they can boost the immune system's ability to recognize and kill a tumor. The viruses enter tumor cells specifically and replicate, eventually breaking the cells apart.

What are three purposes of nutrition? ›

Nutrients have one or more of three basic functions: they provide energy, contribute to body structure, and/or regulate chemical processes in the body.

What are the 6 main purpose of nutrition? ›

What are the 6 essential nutrients? The six essential nutrients are vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, water, and carbohydrates. People need to consume these nutrients from dietary sources for proper body function. Essential nutrients are crucial in supporting a person's reproduction, good health, and growth.

What are the four main goals of medical nutrition therapy? ›

The goals of medical nutrition therapy are to normalize serum glucose and lipid levels, achieve weight loss or stabilization, and develop healthy and sustainable eating habits. There are no dietary guidelines specific to children and adolescents with T2DM.

What are 5 foods that can help combat cancer? ›

Other Effective Cancer-Fighting Foods
  • Carrots. Eating carrots has been linked in certain studies to a lower risk of stomach, lung cancer, and prostate cancer.
  • Beans. Beans are high in fiber, which may be protective against colorectal cancer. ...
  • Cinnamon. ...
  • Nuts. ...
  • Olive oil. ...
  • Turmeric. ...
  • Citrus Fruits. ...
  • Flaxseed.

How is nutritional care beneficial in the quality of life of patients *? ›

Good nutrition is an integral component of patient care. Not only does eating correctly provide substantial physical benefits, it also ensures psychological comfort throughout admission.

Is diet one of the most important factors in cancer prevention? ›

No food or food group can prevent cancer and excluding specific foods won't eliminate your risk. But eating a diet based on plant foods like vegetables, whole grains, beans and fruit and following some basic guidelines can help you reduce your risk for cancer and several other chronic diseases.

What is the importance of nutrition in treatment? ›

A significant benefit of nutritional therapy is its ability to support management of chronic diseases like diabetes, digestive problems, heart disease, and cancer. Losing weight and boosting your immunity significantly reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

What is the role of nutrition in maintaining health and preventing disease? ›

Nutrition is a critical part of health and development. Better nutrition is related to improved infant, child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lower risk of non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease), and longevity. Healthy children learn better.

What is the number 1 cancer fighting food? ›

"Cancer-fighting foods"

The list is usually topped with berries, broccoli, tomatoes, walnuts, grapes and other vegetables, fruits and nuts. "If you look at the typical foods that reduce cancer risk, it's pretty much all plant foods that contain phytochemicals," says Wohlford.

What is the most importance of nutrition? ›

A healthy diet throughout life promotes healthy pregnancy outcomes, supports normal growth, development and ageing, helps to maintain a healthy body weight, and reduces the risk of chronic disease leading to overall health and well-being.

What is the main focus goal of nutritional therapy? ›

The goals of medical nutrition therapy are to normalize serum glucose and lipid levels, achieve weight loss or stabilization, and develop healthy and sustainable eating habits.

How can nutrition help prevent and treat chronic diseases? ›

A healthy diet helps children grow and develop properly and reduces their risk of chronic diseases. Adults who eat a healthy diet live longer and have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Which nutrition protect us against diseases? ›

Vitamins and Minerals are the two nutrients that protect the body from diseases. Was this answer helpful?

What is proper nutrition to the prevention of chronic conditions? ›

Eat Healthy

A balanced, healthy dietary pattern includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy products and limits added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.


1. Dr Shireen Kassam - The role of nutrition in cancer prevention
(Plant-based health professionals UK)
2. Nutrition and Cancer: Do’s and Don'ts
(University of California Television (UCTV))
3. A Radical & Controversial Approach To STARVING CANCER: The Two Root Causes | Dr. Thomas Seyfried
(Dhru Purohit)
4. In Their Own Words: NCI Cancer Prevention Expert Discusses Personalized Nutrition
(National Cancer Institute)
5. The Role of Nutrition in Cancer Prevention
(Gut Cancer Foundation)
6. One Healthy World | The Power of Nutrition for Cancer Prevention
(Physicians Committee)
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