Cancer and Diet

by | Feb 16, 2009

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released their 2005 report on cancer statistics. The web-based report contains official federal government statistics for cancer incidence in 96% of the United States population and mortality statistics for 100%. This is the seventh time the CDC’s National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program have combined registries to offer official federal statistics on cancer incidence and mortality for a single year.

Rates of cancer incidence are reported as the number of newly reported cases per 100,000 people. In 2005, the top four most common cancer diagnoses have not changed since 2000 and represent diseases strongly associated with lifestyle factors.

The number one diagnosed cancer in the US is prostate cancer (142.4), followed by breast (117.7), lung (67.7) and colorectal (48.3) cancers. The deadliest cancer is of the lung (52.8), while the mortality rates from prostate (24.7) and breast (24.0) cancer are nearly identical. Colorectal cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer (17.4).

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US, with heart disease being the first. Though most of us associate heart disease with lifestyle factors, cancer is usually regarded more fatalistically as being random or due primarily to genetics. While genetics does play a factor in some cancer cases, vast amounts of epidemiological data indicate that lifestyle factors, particularly diet and smoking, can largely account for high cancer rates in affluent countries such as the US.

There is abundant evidence that diets high in animal products and refined carbohydrates, and low in vegetables contribute to cancers of the prostate, breast and colon. A similar dietary pattern is responsible for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. What is striking about cancer, however, is that there are no known drugs that stymie its development. Statins do not protect against cancer, nor do multivitamins.

The best diet to prevent all these diseases of affluence is a plant-based, whole foods diet.

Does fear of cancer impact your eating habits?

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15 Responses to “Cancer and Diet”

  1. Darya Pino says:

    FYI:If you are interested in the data on cancer and diet, I highly recommend Eat, Drink and Be Healthy (Walter Willett) and The China Study (Colin Campbell) books on my sidebar. They will change your life.

  2. Make Money Online says:

    Fear of Cancer does impact eating habits sometimes, but a person tends to give into the temptations and eat what they like.

  3. Darya Pino says:

    @Make Money OnlineThat is why it is so important to eat well most of the time. Then on those special occasion days you don’t have to worry about it.

  4. Healthyliving says:

    Where is everyone? Must be recovering from the long weekend…..Anyways this is an interesting post; the CDC probably comes out with the new numbers every year, but people are too far removed from it I think. Cancer is probably more important to be afraid of, but for the most part cancer doesn’t sit on your hips or butt the way fat does- probably the reason I think weight influences food choices more than cancer.

  5. Mike says:

    Interesting question; I guess at most it only keeps me from eating the really bad stuff like fast food, fake processed lunch meat, and bologna from the grocery store. Otherwise cancer isn’t my biggest fear I guess….

  6. Mike says:

    One way to look at this, for us guys, it this: just accept getting prostate cancer because everyones gonna get it, and it has good treatment results; don’t have to worry about breast, smoking is a no-brainer and no-one should be smoking anyways so don’t have to worry about lung, then we just start up with fearing colon cancer, and 48 people outta 100,000 isn’t that many- especially when you take into account all the other bad things out there that could happen to you. This other website says there is a 1/100 change in dying in a car accident.

  7. Darya Pino says:

    @MikeThe problem with your logic is that the same dietary pattern causes heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and more cancer than just prostate or colorectal cancer. The data is unambiguous. The medical costs coupled with the years of discomfort (if you’re lucky!) are something serious to consider.

  8. Karin says:

    I love reading your blog, Darya- thanks so much, I don’t know how you find time for it.I was enjoying a lovely meal of leaks and collard greens and was thinking about this cancer article, and it got me wondering. Should I have mixed in some spinach or something with these greens? I know variety is always better, but do you think it would have any measurable affect on cancer?The collard greens were awesome by the way!!

  9. Matt Shook says:

    There are so many things in this world that I have absolutely no control over…fortunately, the option to choose what I wish to consume each day isn’t one of them.I wouldn’t say that my eating habits were designed in fear of getting cancer…but it’s not like I’m going to avoid eating foods that could be helpful in preventing cancer growth. I would say I eat healthy because I’ve always loved fruits and vegetables, I strongly believe that “I am what I eat”, and because I physically feel stronger and more energetic. Reading about the benefits of a healthy (ie. herbivore) diet doesn’t hurt either…it’s more like a slap on the back to keep up the good work.I believe, as Darya touched on above, adopting healthy eating (and exercising) habits now can really pay off in the future…I am at the point now that I don’t know why anyone would continue to eat poorly. I think depression, ignorance, and apathy only go so far…no one is forcing people to eat poorly except themselves.

  10. Anonymous says:

    @MattFunny how I always heard as a child “you are what you eat” and I took it as a ridiculous statement that obviously wasn’t true, and now I feel like it is more true than ever, in a more profound way……

  11. Matt Shook says:

    @AnonymousExactly! I had the same experience growing up…it took me nearly 24 years to finally realize the true wisdom of that saying…so simple, yet so true.David Wolfe can be a little out there at times, but I think he totally agrees with us. 😉

  12. Greg says:

    Interesting comments, but does anyone else agree that its only a matter of time before modern medicine does away with cancer and heart disease? I mean, people already get heart bypass surgery and cancer surgery, so doctor’s ability to treat this stuff is only gonna get better- I wonder if that influences people about whether they worry about cancer or not….

  13. Lee says:

    Yes, fear of cancer does influence choices I make with regard to my diet.I see a point in the future where we put it all together: a diet of locally grown, fresh whole foods. Right now people are getting to this realization from differnet directions: concern for the environment; weight loss & control; anti-aging; anti-inflammatory; cancer, diabetes & heart disease prevention & treatment.Why do we wait until a bad diagnosis to start eating in a healthy manner?

  14. Matt Shook says:

    @GregI don’t believe “modern” medicine will do away with cancer and heart disease. I believe these diseases are both products of industrial civilization, so I also find it a bit funny that industrial medicine would hold the answers to the very problems it helped create. The overuse of antibiotics is also creating some awfully powerful adaptive germs out there. Western medicine is excellent at immediate life-saving procedures, but as far and long-term care…not so much.@LeeVery intriguing observations…I have noticed the same. People are really finding themselves gently being pushed into the direction of localism…and they’re finding out “hey, this ain’t so bad!””Why do we wait until a bad diagnosis to start eating in a healthy manner?”Totally agree! I really admire your goal to be “fit by fifty”…I think that is really awesome and wish you all the best. I could only dream my parents would adopt the same positive attitude. This past holiday season we gave my parents, parents-in-law, and brother-in-law subscriptions to local CSAs. My in-laws really loved it and are going to continue it year-round. My little bro-in-law is studying at Cal Berkeley…he loved the idea and is enjoying the fresh fruits and veggies with his roomies. After two months of fresh local produce my parents went back to their highly processed unhealthy meals…much to my chagrin. =/

  15. Darya Pino says:

    @KarinI barely have time, but I try! Thanks for the support, I’m glad you enjoy my site.Good question about mixing greens. Yes, technically it might be slightly healthier to have more different kinds in one meal, but if you are eating them all in the same week it is just as good. From a culinary perspective, spinach is a very delicate green while collards are very hearty. I wouldn’t recommend mixing those specifically. Kale or chard would be a better option, but you would have to work with a more complex flavor profile that might not taste as good. Worth an experiment though!—–@MattI also find it difficult sometimes to understand the fatalistic attitude so many people have toward health. From talking to people though, I think a lot of it stems from the confusion and misinformation that gets filtered to the public about health. Also, because fresh fruits and vegetables are old-fashioned and “health” food is usually thought of as powders and bars, it has a reputation for being bad tasting. To me this is the biggest irony of all. If I had to choose between my diet and the typical Western diet on taste alone, I would choose mine in a heartbeat (and probably thousands more!). The myths surrounding of the value and taste of healthy foods are what I’m trying to dispel here.—–@AnonIt’s so true. But no wonder we didn’t believe them, think about all the garbage health messages we got in school:-four food groups-milk does a body good-eat oil sparingly -margarine is better than butter*sigh*—–@GregYou would be blown away if you saw the data on how much more effective food is than “modern medicine” for both preventing and curing most of our chronic diseases. Check out the health books on my side bar. It is hard for healthy people to comprehend how horrible it is to have debilitating disease for 1, 5, 10 years. You cannot enjoy your favorite activities, you are a burden on your loved ones, your mind is confused and basic functions are difficult. Medicine can do nothing about these things, but food can keep you sprightly into your 80s and 90s.—–@Lee Great point! I think we are already there with the science, but the public message is lagging behind. I mostly blame agribusiness, but there are many other factors. Let’s keep spreading the word!(great blog btw!)—–@MattExcellent move on the CSAs! At least some of them stuck with it. Keep nudging 😉

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