Nutrition and Cancer

People with less healthy diets are more likely to develop cancer and overweight people are far more likely to die from the disease

Experts think that nearly 30,000 cancers in the UK every year may be linked to unhealthy diets.

Cancer does not discriminate. It doesn't care who you are or what you do. Whilst survival has significantly improved over the last 40 years, it still takes and wrecks too many lives. Alarmingly, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with some form of cancer is now 1 in 2. That's the reality we now face and it is a sobering prospect.

But are we powerless to prevent it?

Not always, as lifestyle does play a significant part in whether we will get cancer or not. It is often a combination of factors which affects our cancer risk but after smoking, being overweight or obese is probably the most important PREVENTABLE cause of cancer. Indeed, there is now strong evidence that being overweight increases the risk of 11 cancers, namely Bowel, Oesophagus, Pancreas, Kidney, Womb, Breast (post-menopause), Ovary, Gallbladder, Prostate (advanced), Liver, & the more recently added, Stomach cancer (cardia).

It is estimated that about 1/3 of the 13 most common cancers could be prevented every year in the UK, by eating the right foods, getting some exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight (World Cancer Research Fund). That's a staggering 79,950 cases every year.

WCRC Cancer Prevention Recommendations

  1. Maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Move more.
  3. Eat Well.
  4. Enjoy a plant based diet.
  5. Reduce red meat. Avoid processed meat.
  6. Cut down on alcohol.
  7. Eat less Salt.
  8. For cancer prevention, don't use supplements
  9. If you can, breast feed your baby.
  10. After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the cancer prevention recommendations.
Making lifestyle changes will help at whatever point in life you do it, but it is obviously much better to make them as early as possible. Unfortunately, it still provides no guarantees around your health but can increase the odds in your favour against becoming one of these statistics in the future:

Cancer Statistics:

  • 1 in 2 people born after 1960 will develop some form of cancer over a life-time
  • Around 2 million people in the UK are living with or beyond cancer. This is expected to double by 2030
  • Excess bodyweight is the second largest preventable cause of cancer in the UK
  • c. 25,000 cancers could be prevented per year in UK if we were all a healthy weight (WCRF)
  • It is estimated that nearly 1 in 10 cancer cases are linked to less healthy diets
       (Source: Cancer Research UK)

More Specifically:

In the UK, through improved diet, exercise & body weight, it is estimated:
  • 71% (6,200 cases per year) of oesophageal cancers could be prevented
  • 67% (7,100 cases per year) of mouth & throat cancers could be prevented
  • 47% (19,800 cases per year) of bowel cancers could be prevented
  • 44% (3,900 cases per year) of womb cancers could be prevented
  • 38% (20,300 cases per year) of breast cancers could be prevented
  • 17% (1,200 cases per year) of stomach cancers could be prevented
       (Source: World Cancer Research Fund)



New cases of cancer, 2014, UK



Deaths from cancer, 2014, UK



Survive cancer for 10 or more years, 2010-11, England and Wales



Preventable cases of cancer, UK


A Mediterranean Style Diet From All Food Groups
EAT More: unprocessed foods, fruit & vegetables, wholegrains & starchy foods, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, pulses, oily fish, high fibre & Omega 3 rich foods, shown to have a protective effect.
EAT Less: processed foods, foods low in essential nutrients, high in sugar, salt, red & processed meat & unhealthy fats, shown to increase your risk over a prolonged period.

In the UK each year:

Eating more fruit & vegetables could prevent around 15,000 cancer cases

There is now strong evidence that Fruit & vegetables can decrease the risk of cancer of the mouth & throat, lung & oesophagus. They contain lots of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants & phytochemicals. The best protection comes from eating a wide variety of colours. 5 portions a day has been recommended for many years. A minimum 7 portions a day is now known to be additionally beneficial. MFL menu plans provide a minimum 2 fruit & 5 vegetable portions a day.

Eating less processed & red meat could prevent around 9,000 cancer cases

There is now strong evidence that eating too much red meat & any amount of processed meat over time can increase your risk of bowel & stomach cancer (non-cardia). Key advice is to limit consumption of red meat to within UK Adult reference intake guidelines of 700-750g raw weight (500g cooked weight) per week & avoid processed meats. It is best to cook meat by low-temperature methods such as braising. Cooking at high temperatures can produce cancer-causing chemicals. MFL menu plans avoid processed meats & offer the opportunity to eat within the weekly guidelines for red meat.

Eating less salt could prevent around 1,700 cancer cases

There is now strong evidence that eating foods preserved in salt can increase the risk of of stomach cancers. The main advice is to choose fresh, unprocessed products whenever possible, avoid too many salt-preserved or high-salt foods & check the salt content of everyday foods purchased which accounts for over 75% of the salt in our diets. MFL menu plans check the salt content for you, is set within the recommended maximum 6g salt per day and use lots of fresh, unprocessed products.

Eating a high fibre diet could prevent around 5,000 cancer cases

There is now strong evidence that eating fibre-rich foods can reduce the risk of bowel cancer by at least 1/4. Whole grains seem to have the most effect on reducing bowel cancer risk.  Key advice is to try to boost the fibre in your diet by eating plenty of plant foods & choosing wholegrain varieties of starchy foods wherever possible. MFL menu plans offer fibre rich foods which also help to keep you fuller longer.
The evidence on nutrition & the risk of cancer is growing, but it is believed some people are dismissing reliable advice because of conflicting & confusing information. Not surprising as there is a lot of it about.

For up-to-date, reliable and more detailed information on nutrition & cancer & how to reduce your risk, I would recommend visiting the following websites:

Cancer Research UK

World Cancer Research Fund

Macmillan Cancer Support

Eating a healthy diet can benefit people undergoing treatment for cancer, living with or beyond cancer, but individuals can have unique nutritional considerations & should therefore seek further nutritional advice from a suitably qualified health professional.