How much can we reduce our risk of getting cancer?

In 1997 the American Cancer Institute stated that about 1/3 of all cancers are related to what we eat and another 30% results from smoking. It would seem logical that if we watch what we eat and stop smoking we can substantially reduce our risk of getting cancer. Again, we know there are a number of foods that help fight cancer.

Flaxseed as a means of reducing breast cancer risk

Studies using flaxseed and a placebo, at the University of Toronto have shown significant reductions (21-33%) in the growth rate of cancer tumors, as measured by Ki67 labeling index. The change we similar to those seen with tamoxifen using similar study protocol.  See the full study summary at I am very positive about the use of flaxseed and recommend adding it to your diet.

It's All in the Muffins

Investigators at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada,[8] examined the effects of dietary flaxseed in women with cyclical mastalgia. Cyclical mastalgia is a common disorder of breast pain, sometimes very severe, that most often occurs in the week before menstruation. In a retrospective case-control study by Plu-Bureau and colleagues,[9] a previous history of cyclical mastalgia was found to be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Several hormonal drugs, such as tamoxifen, danazol, and bromocriptine, have been used in the treatment of cyclical mastalgia with varying degrees of efficacy, but the long-term risks of these drugs in premenopausal women are unknown.

Dietary flaxseed is a rich source of mammalian lignan precursors, which are thought to antagonize the action of endogenous estrogens. Because of this, it has been investigated as an alternative to drugs in the treatment of cyclical mastalgia. The double-blind, placebo-controlled study by Plu-Bureau and colleagues was designed to examine the clinical and biologic effects of dietary flaxseed in this patient population. Women were randomized to receive a daily flaxseed muffin (44 patients) or a placebo muffin (56 patients). Patients were not allowed to eat soy foods or other sources of flaxseed within 90 days of enrollment or during the study period. Patients were also excluded if they had received oral contraceptives or other hormonal therapy within 90 days of enrollment. The groups were well balanced with respect to baseline characteristics. Patients received the muffins through 3 menstrual cycles. The patients used a visual analog scale to rate pain. Breast pain was alleviated in both groups but was reduced to a significantly greater degree in the flaxseed group during the second and third cycles. Patients in both groups reported reductions in breast swelling and lumpiness, with no significant difference between the 2 groups. The authors reported that there were no significant adverse effects with the flaxseed; however, they did not comment on the incidence of abdominal discomfort, which is often associated with flaxseed. Analysis of plasma hormone levels is planned.

Fats, sugar and sodium and cancer

Avoid a diet high in fat, sugar and sodium. To reduce fat in a diet, broil, steam, bake, poach, roast or use a microwave. Remove skin from chicken or turkey as well as any visible fat before cooking. Remember that most foods that are high in sugar are also high in fat and calories.

Orange Juice and cancer

A glass of orange juice may strike a blow against breast cancer. (16th International Congress of Nutrition, Montreal, July 1997). Use calcium fortified orange juice and you will get the amount of calcium in a glass of milk.

Pumpkin and cancer

Canned pumpkin (or cooked pumpkin) is a super cancer food. One half cup of cooked pumpkin has over five times your quota for beta-carotene (vitamin A0) per day. According to research at Tufts University it may be used to protect against many cancers.

Fruits and Vegetables and cancer 

The National Cancer Institute recommends a minimum of 3 vegetables and two fruits per day.  Ex-smokers and those who never smoked who eat the most fruits and vegetables have a 50% lower risk of lung cancer than those who eat little is any fruits and vegetables. 

Soy foods and cancer

Stephen Barnes, University of Alabama at Birmingham,(a numerous other studies) suggests that soybeans contain a substance that is remarkably similar to tamoxifen, which is widely used in humans for the treatment of breast cancer.  It seems that soy foods appear to protect by manipulating estrogen.  Defatted soy flour has been used in many studies. In my opinion, and according to the research, it is a better alternative than full fat soy products.  It has so many minerals and vitamins and contains almost no fat.  I have many recipes in my latest book using defatted soy flour. The research indicates you can use as little as a fourth of a cup a day and receive the health benefits. (See the research summaries from my books for more detailed information)A sampling of research studies from the books)

Milk and cancer

According to a report in Nutrition and Cancer (131&2:89), researchers at Roswell Park Memorial Institute showed that drinking milk with the highest fat content increases cancer risks BUT drinking skim milk (fat reduced) appears to protect against many of the same cancer risks. These findings suggest that drinking whole milk may cause cancer BUT drinking skim milk (fat reduced) may actually help prevent cancer.

Vitamin A, Beta Carotene and Cancer 

Researchers in Helsinki monitored the association between vitamin levels of vitamin A and beta carotene in 36,265 subjects and the subsequent development of cancer. Their blood levels of vitamin A and beta carotene were measured. Those with the lowest levels had a greater risk for cancer. Cancer risk increases when our dietary intake of these nutrients is low (American Journal of Epidemiology 132: 857-880).  A Harvard study that analyzed biopsies of women breast tumors shows that the women with high breast tissue concentrations of caroteniods, including Beta Carotene are 30-70% less like to have breast cancer.

Beta Carotene and Prostate Cancer 

A research team at Nagoya City University Medical School and Kyoto University in Japan reported in Cancer Research that low levels of beta carotene are directly related to the risk of developing prostate cancer. The study involved 100 patients with prostate cancer. The ages were from 50 to 79 years (Cancer Research 48: 1331-1336). A study reported in the American Journal of Nutrition found that high blood levels of beta carotene had a strong protective effect against lung cancer, melanoma, and bladder cancer. This study was done at John Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in Baltimore (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 53:265S-269S).

Garlic and Prostate Cancer

A British study found that men who ate garlic at least twice a week have 50% lower risk of prostate cancer than men who never ate garlic.  Studies by Harvard researchers found the eating tomato and tomato products also reduced the risk.  I have plenty of recipes apply these principles in my books

Green Tea and Cancer

Scientists at Purdue University may have uncovered one way in which tea inhibits cancer growth.  At the American Society of Cell Biology 12/21/98, they announced that when they tested black and green teas, they found that EGCs inhibit tNOX activity.  They also noted that because the EGC content is higher in green teas vs. black teas (10 times higher), they would recommend drinking green tea over black teas. When presenting their paper they indicated that cancer cells whose tNOX is inhibited by EGC can divide but not grow after dividing, and therefore they die.  They still can not say what amount of green tea you should drink, only that drinking it is good for you.

Sprouts have 20 times more by weight of the chemical sulforaphane for Fighting Tumors

"Eat your Sprouts" is the new phrase we all may need to say to ourselves and our loved ones.  John Hopkin's University researchers (1998) have discovered that broccoli sprouts have 20 times more by weight of the chemical sulforaphane for reducing the growth of tumors.  Just a 1/2 a cup of sprouts that you would put into a tuna pita would have the same cancer fighting impact as 1/4 lb. of broccoli.  

Also sprouts are good news for those on heart medication.  Because broccoli has a high amount of vitamin K that can interfere with some heart medication, people on that medication avoid broccoli.  But broccoli sprouts, according to Jed Fahey (1999), a John Hopkins plant physiologist researcher, do not have the concentration of Vitamin K, so those on heart medication can enjoy the beta carotene and sulforaphane benefits without the worry. 

Fish Oils and Cancer

Fish oils are a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids and other essential fatty acids. Several studies have investigated the relationship between fish oils and cardiovascular diseases. But is there a relationship between the consumption of fish and cancer?
In a study reported in the July 1999 issue of The American Journal of Nutrition, the authors found a consistent pattern of protection against cancers of the digestive tract. Cancers like multiple myeloma and uterine cancer were also found to be decreased.
Eating fish 1- 2 times a week seems to be protective and is a definite nutritional DO! Salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut and trout are the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids.

For more specific research summaries on how nutrition affects cancer see (A sampling of research studies from the books)

Tomatoes and Cancer

The November 2003 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. shows that tomatoes have a significant impact on reducing cancer risk. "In this study, we didn't see a sign benefit from lycopene alone," says researcher Steven K. Clinton, MD, PhD, of Ohio State University. "But we did see a significant benefit from tomato products." Lycopene, from tomato's is available in supplement form.  It was thought to be helpful in cancer prevention but in this study it appears that foods with tomatoes are a key to cancer prevention, not supplements.  I have numerous tomato based recipes in a four of my books.


This index provides a list of further research summaries and recipes on some of the many ways foods can help prevent or reverse specific conditions. Just click on the ones that are of interest to you.

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Rosemary C. Fisher.
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