The diet that could stop cancer from spreading

Every year—shortly after National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October—the American Cancer Society reports that roughly another 1.7 million new cancer cases have been diagnosed. That’s a staggering number, but here’s something all cancer patients can be hopeful about: Research suggests that not only can diet help prevent the disease, but there’s also evidence that what you eat can also help keep cancer from spreading or recurring. Here’s what cancer experts have learned about the best dietary approach for cancer survivors. Check out other good-news statistics about cancer.

Diet matters

In a 2002 study, researchers found that an estimated one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States can be attributed to diet. But conversely, “Good nutrition may reduce the incidence of breast cancer and the risk of breast cancer progression or recurrence,” wrote Natalie Ledesma, RD, in Women’s Health Matters, a publication from the University of California, San Francisco. Research published in Nutrition Reviews found that the foods you eat—and, importantly, the things you avoid—can dramatically reduce the risk of cancer returning. In this review of studies on diet and cancer recurrence, the researchers found that a generally healthy diet could lower future cancer risk by about 25 percent; following a high-sugar, high-fat Western-style diet nearly doubled the risk of return. Alcohol didn’t help either: The more people drank, the higher their risk of recurrence.

Ledesma, an oncology dietitian at the Cancer Resource Center at UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, identifies two major types of diets as optimal: a plant-based diet and the Mediterranean diet. Many experts agree that some of the same eating habits that help prevent cancer can also help halt its progression and stop it from recurring in patients.

RELATED: Foods directly related to cancer