Cancer and Food

So, in 2010 it is estimated that a little less than 570,000 people will die of cancer in the US. Close to 190,000 of those cancer deaths are thought to be primarily driven by obesity and/or by being overweight or simply by being physically inactive (or by poor nutrition).  Wow, that’s a lot of deaths caused by something that we can in many cases control.  It is interesting also that cancer deaths caused by smoking (estimated to be over 170,000 cases in 2010). Many of the  cancers caused by overexposure to the sun (skin cancer) and excessive alcohol consumption (live cancer) can also be prevented.  Thus, in the US alone, a large number of cancers can be thwarted or at least minimized by adjustment of lifestyle changes.  Does this mean they will be reduced in 2o11 because this information is publically available and cancer advocates are spreading the word.  No, it does not.  Ask someone to stop smoking and they might?  Ask someone to stop drinking and they might.  Ask someone to stop eating too much or less red meats, etc. and hmm…they might not.  It is hard to stop overeating or to stop eating less than healthy foods…very hard.  If you don’t smoke, then you wont get lung cancer due to smoking (still a small chance of lung cancer do to other factors) but if you stop eating unhealthy foods you might still get cancer right?  Yes, that’s true.  Does anyone actually know the exact risk that unhealthy eating adds to one’s overall cancer development?  Well, now that is hard.  It is known that smokers have a 12 time relative risk of getting lung cancer than non smokers.  That means if you smoke often your risk is 12 times higher than someone who does not smoke.  That is of course high, but still does not tell us exactly if we will get cancer or not.  Obesity and eating unhealthy is MUCH harder to calculate as it really depends of the individual.  Anyhow, to make a long story short, we do know that by looking at people who are overweight and those who are not, the risk of several types of cancer is higher.  We do know that red meats, and other types of foods high in cholesterol and fats are not healthy for us.  But, stopping eating that cheeseburger is hard.  People will insist that it is better to enjoy life and eat what they want, then to worry about a risk (not a certainty).  So, this issue is not resolved.  My own thoughts are, now that we know the facts, we should try to incorporate some of the measures when we can.  Why not eat as healthy as possible and reduce (not necessarily eliminate) unhealthy foods.  Eat in moderation and do try to eat fresh green vegetable more often for example.  If it means a potentially longer life…than why not! Food for thought only! Any thoughts…

Dr. C


4 thoughts on “Cancer and Food

  1. Hi Charles, excellent blog and posts.

    If I remember correctly, the link between diet and cancer sometimes pops up and sometimes does not, particularly when individual foods (i.e., red meat, yum!) are singled out as risk agents. Oh got to go, baby crying..


  2. … so diet and cancer issues seem complicated to me and involve a bit of guesswork.

    …For example, charred meat contains powerful mutagens, as does cigarette smoke. Many packaging agents and plastics could leach endocrine disrupters. Some foods that are particularly good at absorbing pesticides, which may stress the liver’s detox enzymes…

    Perhaps healthy habits in aggregate may make a difference, rather than individual risk foods. I wonder if entire _patterns_ of healthy living have been analyzed thoroughly? The Okanawan Japanese whose children become Americans comes to mind…


    • Hi John,
      I agree that this is a difficult area. I got the stats from the NCI and I am sure they are just estimates based on a wide body of evidence. However, you are right that burned meat contains carcinogens and that too much of that is bad for you. I also agree that we fully don’t understand the effect sythnetic additives, the hormones, the use of pesticides with plants, and the processing of meats etc. The studies that have been performed like most are looking at one indicdual component at a time on one cell type or one cancer type (usually). Other mroe complex studies are done with populations of people which do help, but are limited due to the wide variety of habits even within on population. I agree in aggregate, the evidence is quite clear…eat helthy-stay healthy, eat unhealthy- increase your chances of becoming unhelathy. We have a long way to go to get more reliable data but we are starting (the colelctive we, not you and I).
      Thanks for your comment
      I will have a section on food and cancer in my upcoming audio presentation on my website soon….

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