Choosing Foods to Reduce Cancer Risk

With almost daily contradictory proclamations from the media of the latest nutritional news, the simple business of eating can become very confusing. Is it okay to eat butter and bacon or not? Are carbohydrates the very worst of foods or are they actually the healthiest? Is coconut oil a miracle food or just another saturated fat to avoid. It seems impossible to make an informed decision about what to eat. Sometimes it’s easiest to just stop listening.

In actuality, the topic of healthy nutrition is quite simple. Over many decades the scientific community has amassed a huge amount of excellent research regarding the health consequences of eating certain foods, information that, contrary to the headlines, is clear and straightforward. That is what this particular article is about – easy guidelines for choosing foods that offer you the best chance to avoid some of the common cancers suffered today.

In spring of last year (2017) two articles by T. Colin Campbell published in the journal “Nutrition and Cancer” delved into the history of our understanding of cancer and its relationship to the food we eat (1,2). A debate has been raging for centuries between those that believe cancer is “constitutional” in origin, with multiple factors that might come into play for its development, treatment and prevention, and those who present cancer as a “local” disease best treated with surgery without consideration of its probable causes and possible prevention. The “local” theory was first presented during the late 1700s and has prevailed through the 1800s and 1900s and even into our modern health system. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments that are the basis of cancer treatment today are a direct consequence of the “local” theory of cancer and its accompanying belief that the disease is fought through specific treatments aimed solely at the cancer site itself. It is now becoming more and more apparent that the development of cancer is influenced by many different factors, not the least of which is nutrition.
In 1982 a landmark report from the US National Academy of Sciences (one of whose thirteen authors was T. Colin Campbell) pointed out that the contribution of nutrition to cancer formation is of paramount importance (3). Their supporting scientific evidence was extensive and included epidemiological, experimental animal and cell culture studies published between 1940 and 1980. The authors admitted that it was not possible at that time to make “firm scientific pronouncements” regarding the relationship between diet and cancer. However given the state of scientific knowledge of nutrition in 1982, two suggestions were offered as the best precautionary recommendations for cancer avoidance.

These two nutritional goals were;
1. Reduce dietary fat to 30% of total diet calories
2. Consume more vegetables, fruits and grains (as whole foods)

Remember that this report came out in 1982. Nutritional research continued and even intensified over the next thirty six years, adding a wealth of new information that has served to strengthen the evidence for the direct relationship between diet and cancer. The result is an expanded set of recommendations for eating to defeat cancer.

The up-to-date “best available evidence” now gives us sufficiently compelling scientific documentation to follow the following six dietary goals (4);
(1) limiting or avoiding dairy products to reduce the risk of prostate cancer (5,6,7)
(2) limiting or avoiding alcohol to reduce the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, and breast (8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19)
(3) avoiding red and processed meat to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon and rectum (20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40)
(4) avoiding grilled, fried, and broiled meats to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, prostate, kidney, and pancreas (this includes all meats including poultry and fish) (41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50)
(5) encouraging the consumption of soy products during adolescence to reduce the risk of breast cancer in adulthood and to reduce the risk of recurrence and mortality for women previously treated for breast cancer (51,52,53,54,55)
(6) emphasizing fruits and vegetables to reduce risk of several common forms of cancer (56)


We don’t need to wait for absolute certainty and agreement among all the institutions and services that have some stake in the food we choose to eat. Governments; hospitals, schools and senior care homes; physicians, dietitians and other health care professionals; pharmaceutical companies; food producers and food distributors are all anxious to exert their influences. It could take decades more before a working accord centered around eating for health is achieved. For people like us, just trying to eat food that is not only tasty but healthy too, we can adopt these six simple principles knowing that they are backed by the strength of years of study of the relationships between nutrition and cancer. We need have no worries about the possible side effects of taking this step. One thing is already easy to agree on…. there is no downside to eating more whole fruits and vegetables.



1 Campbell, T.C. The Past, Present, and Future of Nutrition and Cancer: Part 1—Was A Nutritional Association Acknowledged a Century Ago? Nutrition and Cancer, 2017;69(5): 811-817.

2 – Campbell, T.C. Nutrition and Cancer: An Historical Perspective.-The Past, Present, and Future of Nutrition and Cancer. Part 2. Misunderstanding and Ignoring Nutrition. Nutr Cancer. 2017; 69(6):962-968.

3 – National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer. Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer. National Academy Press (US). 1982.

4 – Gonzales, J.F., Barnard, N.D., Jenkins, D.J., et al. Applying the precautionary principle to nutrition and cancer. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(3):239-246.

5 – World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Re-search. Food, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. American Institute for Cancer Research, Washington, D.C., 2007.

6 – Chan, J.M., Stampfer, M.J., Ma, J., Ajani, U., Gaziano, J.M., Giovannucci, E. Dairy products, calcium, and prostate cancer risk in the Physicians’ Health Study. Presentation, American Association for Cancer Research, San Francisco, April 2000.

7 – Cohen, P. Serum insulin-like growth factor-I levels and prostate cancer risk—interpreting the evidence. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1998; 90: 876-879.

8 – Bagnardi, V.,Rota, M., Botteri, E. et al. (2015). Alcohol consumption and site-specific cancer risk: A
comprehensive dose-response meta-analysis. British Journal of Cancer 2015; 112(3): 580-593.

9 – Cao, Y., Willett, W.C., Rimm, E.B., Stampfer, M.J., and Giovannucci, E.I. Light to moderate
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13 – Gronbaek, M., Becker, U., Johansen, D. et al. Population based cohort study of the association
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14 – Li, Y., Mao, Y., Zhang, Y. et al. Alcohol drinking and upper aerodigestive tract cancer mortality: A
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15 – Moskal, A., Norat, T., Ferrari, al. Alcohol intake and colorectal cancer risk: A dose-response
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16 – Romieu, I., Scoccianti, C., Chajes, V. et al. Alcohol intake and breast cancer in the European
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17 – Seitz, H. K., Pelucchi, C., Bagnardi, V. et al. Epidemiology and pathophysiology of alcohol and
breast cancer: Update 2012. Alcohol and Alcoholism 2012; 47(3): 204-212.

18 – Shield, K., Soerjomataram, I., Rehm, J. Alcohol use and breast cancer: a critical review. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 30 APR 2016

19 – Turati, F., Garavello, W., Tramacere, I. et al. A meta-analysis of alcohol drinking and oral and
pharyngeal cancers: Results from subgroup analyses. Alcohol and Alcoholism 2012; 48(1): 107-118.

20 – Bouvard, V., Loomis, D., Guyton, K.Z., et al. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. Lancet Oncol. 2015; 16(16):1599-1600.

21 – International Agency for Research on Cancer. Volume 114: Consumption of red meat and processed meat. IARC Working Group. Lyon; 6–13 September, 2015. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum (in press).

22 – Alomirah, H., Al-Zenki, S., Al-Hooti, S. et al. Concentrations and dietary exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from grilled and smoked foods. Food Control. 2011; 22: 2028-2035

23 – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Statistics Division. Food balance.*/E.Date: 2015

24 – Norat, T., Bingham, S., Ferrari, P. et al. Meat, fish, and colorectal cancer risk: the European Prospective Investigation into cancer and nutrition. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2005; 97: 906-916

25 – Larsson, S.C., Rafter, J., Holmberg, L.,Bergkvist, L., Wolk, A. Red meat consumption and risk of cancers of the proximal colon, distal colon and rectum: the Swedish Mammography Cohort. Int J Cancer. 2005; 113: 829-834

26 – English, D.R., MacInnis, R.J., Hodge, A.M., Hopper, J.L., Haydon, A.M., Giles, G.G. Red meat, chicken, and fish consumption and risk of colorectal cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004; 13: 1509-1514

27 – Oba, S., Shimizu, N., Nagata, C. et al. The relationship between the consumption of meat, fat, and coffee and the risk of colon cancer: a prospective study in Japan. Cancer Lett. 2006; 244: 260-267

28 – Bernstein, A.M., Song, M., Zhang, X. et al. Processed and unprocessed red meat and risk of colorectal cancer: analysis by tumor location and modification by time. PLoS One. 2015; 10: e0135959

29 – Cross, A.J., Ferrucci, L.M., Risch, A. et al. A large prospective study of meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk: an investigation of potential mechanisms underlying this association. Cancer Res. 2010; 70: 2406-2414

30 – Chao, A., Thun, M,J., Connell, C.J. et al. Meat consumption and risk of colorectal cancer. JAMA. 2005; 293: 172-182

31 – Chan, D.S., Lau, R., Aune, D. et al. Red and processed meat and colorectal cancer incidence: meta-analysis of prospective studies. PLoS One. 2011; 6: e20456

32 – Pierre, F., Freeman, A., Tache, S., van der Meer, R., Corpet, D.E. Beef meat and blood sausage promote the formation of azoxymethane-induced mucin-depleted foci and aberrant crypt foci in rat colons. J Nutr. 2004 Oct; 134(10):2711-2716.

33 – Pierre, F., Santarell,i R., Tache, S., Gueraud, F., Corpet, D.E. Beef meat promotion of dimethylhydrazine-induced colorectal carcinogenesis biomarkers is suppressed by dietary calcium. Br J Nutr. 2008; 99: 1000-1006

34 – Santarelli, R.L., Vendeuvre, J.L., Naud, N., et al. Meat processing and colon carcinogenesis: cooked, nitrite-treated, and oxidized high-heme cured meat promotes mucin-depleted foci in rats. Cancer Prev Res (Phila); 3: 852–64.

35 – Aune, D., Chan, D.S., Vieira, A.R. et al. Red and processed meat intake and risk of colorectal adenomas: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Cancer Causes Control. 2013; 24: 611-627

36 – Gay, L.J., Mitrou, P.N., Keen, J., et al. Dietary, lifestyle and clinicopathological factors associated with APC mutations and promoter methylation in colorectal cancers from the EPIC-Norfolk study. J Pathol. 2012; 228: 405-415

37 – Pierre, F.H., Martin, O.C., Santarelli, R.L. et al. Calcium and alpha-tocopherol suppress cured-meat promotion of chemically induced colon carcinogenesis in rats and reduce associated biomarkers in human volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013; 98: 1255-1262

38 – Le Leu, R.K., Winter, J.M., Christophersen, C.T. et al. Butyrylated starch intake can prevent red meat-induced O6-methyl-2-deoxyguanosine adducts in human rectal tissue: a randomised clinical trial. Br J Nutr. 2015; 114: 220-230

39 – Lewin, M.H., Bailey, N., Bandaletova, T. et al. Red meat enhances the colonic formation of the DNA adduct O6-carboxymethyl guanine: implications for colorectal cancer risk. Cancer Res. 2006; 66: 1859-1865

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46 – Gunter, M.J., Probst-Hensch, N.M., Cortessis, V.K., Kulldorff, M., Haile, R.W., Sinha, R. Meat intake, cooking-related mutagens and risk of colorectal adenoma in a sigmoidoscopy-based case-control study. Carcinogenesis. 2005; 26(3):637–642.

47 – Sinha, R., Kulldorff, M., Curtain, J., Brown, C.C., Alavanja, M.C.R., Swanson, C.A. Fried, well-done red meat and risk of lung cancer in women (United States). Cancer Causes and Control. 1998; 9:621–630.

48 – Sinha, R., Chow, W.H., Kulldorff, M., Denobile, J., Butler, J., Garcia-Closas, M., Weil, R., Hoover, R.N., Rothman, N. Well-done, grilled red meat increases the risk of colorectal adenomas. Cancer Research. 1999; 59:4320–4324.

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Promoting a healthy adventurous lifestyle powered by plants and the strength of scientific evidence.

My name is Debra Harley (BScPhm) and I welcome you to my retirement project, this website. Over the course of a life many lessons are learned, altering deeply-rooted ideas and creating new passions.

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