The Diet Cancer Story

My wife was been “free of cancer” for well over 5 years, but at her last mammogram checkup they discovered a growth they could not otherwise account for and want to do another byopsy-type lump removal. This inevitably raises the heady and frightening spectre of “cancer” once again. As I write, this “ectomy” is still in our future, so the results and reactions are also “still in our future. We’ve been there, several times, but that won’t make a diagnosis of malignancy any easier, any less emotionally traumatic, even though the “period of adjustment” is eased somewhat.

So after 8-9 years cancer free she was diagnosed in January, 2005 with another lump and it was removed in early April, 2005. Yes, it was malignant, but, in the doctor’s words, it was a ‘friendly” tumor. Our “period of adjustment” has been much easier this time around.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in North America (after heart and other cardiovascular diseases) with lung cancer heading the list, followed by bowel, breast, prostate, pancreas and other malignancies. Cancer prevention is therefore a top for health authorities. Of known cancer causes, smoking tobacco accounts for about a third of the cases and diet is blamed for another 30-70 per cent, although the relationship between food and cancer is hazier than for tobacco, and there are no pat answers.

In general, cancer risks can be diminished by avoiding tobacco use, protecting skin from ultraviolet rays, limiting alcohol intake and – according to the latest evidence – by eating enough fruit and vegetables. Recent results from many studies link low intakes of fresh fruit and vegetables to high cancer rates. Some researchers claim that inadequate intakes of fruit and vegetables double the risks of cancer at many sites – as well as markedly increasing risks of heart disease and cataracts. Since only about 10 per cent of North Americans eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, there’s ample room for improvement in fighting cancer. (Very recent studies suggest that anti-inflammatories, such as ASA/Aspirin and other nonsteroidals may help to prevent some cancers.)

Diet-cancer links are complex to unravel

As foods are complex mixtures and people make wide and varied choices, it is hard to prove definite relationships between food and cancer. Much of what is known about the dietary causes of cancer comes from epidemiological studies (that examine the distribution and risks for disease). Epidemiological comparisons of cancer rates in different countries and how they change offer clues. When people migrate to a new country and mimic its lifestyle, they soon acquire the same cancer rates as those in the adopted country. For example, if Japanese people (who have low rates of breast and colon cancer but high rate so stomach cancer) move to the U.S., they acquire typical American cancer rates – high colon and breast cancer rates, low risks of stomach cancer.

Studies reveal a picture of the diet-cancer link in which some dietary constituents may promote certain cancers – such as fat (mainly from meat), excess energy (calorie) intake and heavy alcohol consumption – while other components, especially antioxidants in fruit and vegetables, may help to prevent cancer. Other dietary constituents that may protect against certain cancers include fatty acids in fish (the N-3 or omega-3 fatty acids) and folic acid (a B vitamin). Large studies now underway should tell us in a few years which dietary components promote or combat tumour formation.

The protective anti-cancer effects of fruit and veggies

Low intakes of fruit and vegetables have been consistently linked to high cancer rates in many countries around the world. Yet, less than 10 per cent of North Americans eat the recommended 5-10 daily servings. The fruit and vegetables that appear most protective against cancer are raw, dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, kale and lettuce), cruciferous or cabbage-family types (such as brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli), and orange forms such as carrots, squash, citrus and other fruits. Different plant foods may protect against different cancers, for example: dog dewormer cancer

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