What is Cancer?
Overweight or obesity Unhealthy diet high in processed foods Lack of physical activity Tobacco use Alcohol use Infections (hepatitis, HPV) Environmental pollution (air, water, and soil) Occupational carcinogens (asbestos) Radiation (UV light, radon gas) Cancer refers to the rapid formation of abnormal cells. Cancer can affect any part of the body, and it represents a complex interaction between genetics and external agents. However, some cancer is also highly preventable through healthy lifestyle choices.
What Increases the Risk for Cancer?
Risk factors for cancer are often associated with lifestyle, behavioral, and environmental exposures; these risk factors are usually preventable. Key risk factors to avoid to lower the risk of developing cancer include:
- Overweight or obesity
- Unhealthy diet high in processed foods
- Lack of physical activity
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol use
- Infections (hepatitis, HPV)
- Environmental pollution (air, water, and soil)
- Occupational carcinogens (asbestos)
- Radiation (UV light, radon gas)
Key Dietary Guidelines for Cancer Prevention
A healthful diet, healthy weight maintenance, and minimization of exposure to carcinogens present in food can help with cancer prevention. The following list contains key dietary factors to support these goals:
- Increase consumption of whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables
- Reduce intake of processed meat and red meat
- Limit intake of salty, smoked, and charred foods Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages and avoid sugary drinks
These cancer recommendations generally conform to the USDA Dietary Guidelines and may help decrease risk for cancer, particularly if there is an increased risk due to other factors such as genetics. These guidelines may also lessen the risk for other chronic diseases.
To protect against cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund recommends eating a healthy diet to meet nutrition needs, not relying on supplements. Studies have shown an inverse association between fruit and vegetable consumption and cancer risk, though studies have not found supplements to reduce cancer risk. In fact, some studies have shown adverse effects of supplement use on cancer risk. Overall, obtaining necessary vitamins and minerals through food is preferable when possible.
A plant-based diet high in fiber and a variety of whole plant foods and low in fat may reduce the risk of cancer, particularly in individuals at increased risk. Organizations like the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Cancer Society recommend maintaining a healthy weight throughout life. A healthful diet and regular physical activity are key for healthy weight maintenance. These dietary guidelines are intended for people who are healthy.