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Food as Medicine - Cancer

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
Photo: Cancerous cells multiply very quickly - In this magnified image, a cancerous cell is dividing to form two cells that contain damaged genetic material. © Provided by DKBooks Cancerous cells multiply very quickly - In this magnified image, a cancerous cell is dividing to form two cells that contain damaged genetic material.

Difficulty chewing - Cut food into small pieces, and choose soft fruit, such as berries. To make other fruits easier to eat, you can soften them by stewing or poaching.

Photo: Always wash fruit and vegetables - This will help reduce the risk of eating nitrates and fertilizers, which can promote free radicals. © Provided by DKBooks Always wash fruit and vegetables - This will help reduce the risk of eating nitrates and fertilizers, which can promote free radicals.

Loss of appetite - Quick and easy to make, this broiled chicken and rice dish can be big or small. This dish contains a good low-fat protein, and rice is easy to digest.

Photo: Blend or juice fresh fruit - Fresh fruit contains essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemcials that help prevent cancer. © Provided by DKBooks Blend or juice fresh fruit - Fresh fruit contains essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemcials that help prevent cancer.

Dealing with nausea or difficulty swallowing - A bowl of hot vegetable soup is easy to prepare and a good way to boost your nutrient intake if you do not feel like eating much.

Photo: Loss of appetite - Quick and easy to make, this broiled chicken and rice dish can be big or small. This dish contains a good low-fat protein, and rice is easy to digest. © Provided by DKBooks Loss of appetite - Quick and easy to make, this broiled chicken and rice dish can be big or small. This dish contains a good low-fat protein, and rice is easy to digest.

Cancerous cells multiply very quickly - In this magnified image, a cancerous cell is dividing to form two cells that contain damaged genetic material.

Photo: Dealing with nausea or difficulty swallowing - A bowl of hot vegetable soup is easy to prepare and a good way to boost your nutrient intake if you do not feel like eating much. © Provided by DKBooks Dealing with nausea or difficulty swallowing - A bowl of hot vegetable soup is easy to prepare and a good way to boost your nutrient intake if you do not feel like eating much.

Blend or juice fresh fruit - Fresh fruit contains essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemcials that help prevent cancer.

Photo: Difficulty chewing - Cut food into small pieces, and choose soft fruit, such as berries. To make other fruits easier to eat, you can soften them by stewing or poaching. © Provided by DKBooks Difficulty chewing - Cut food into small pieces, and choose soft fruit, such as berries. To make other fruits easier to eat, you can soften them by stewing or poaching.

Always wash fruit and vegetables - This will help reduce the risk of eating nitrates and fertilizers, which can promote free radicals.

The second leading cause of death, cancer is a major concern in the 21st century.

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. Of the many different types of cancer, the majority form tumors in a specific part of the body, most commonly the skin, breast, lung, large intestine, or prostate gland. The disease may then spread within the body through the blood and lymphatic system (a system of glands that filters out infectious organisms from the body).

Because public knowledge and understanding of the disease has developed and increased over the last few decades, we have been able to implement lifestyle changes, adopt effective screening programs, and pursue new types of therapies in order to improve the prevention and treatment of cancer.


Different types of cancer

There are many different types of cancers, and the disease can affect organs (such as the colon, breast, or prostate) as well as tissues (such as the blood or bones). The most common types of cancer in North America are skin, lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal. About one in two men and one in three women in North America develops cancer at some point in their life.


Risk factors

Cancer risk is influenced by both external factors (tobacco smoke, chemicals, radiation, and infectious organisms) and internal factors (genes, mutations, hormones, and immune conditions). Exposure to the most common carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), such as tobacco smoke, ultraviolet light, and other types of radiation should be avoided when possible.

Your physical state, what you eat, your age, whether you are obese or not, and hereditary factors all influence whether you are more or less likely to get cancer.


Treating cancer

The treatment for cancer usually depends on the stage the disease has reached. Surgically removing tumors can be successful if the cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes or other sites in the body. For certain types of cancers, treatment with chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used instead of or in combination with surgery. New therapies include inactivating damaged genes and boosting the immune systems ability to destroy cancerous cells. However, the most effective way to lower the number of deaths is to prevent cancer from developing by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and screening to detect it early.


Nutrition and cancer

We deal primarily with three types of cancer in this section—breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer—because nutritional and lifestyle changes can be effective in their prevention and treatment. If you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy, nutrition can play an essential role in helping you feel better, giving you energy and increasing your well-being .

Because some drugs used in chemotherapy can deplete vitamin and mineral levels in the body, your doctor may recommend a supplement. During treatment, however, you should not exceed the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for vitamins and minerals. High doses of certain micronutrients may interfere with the processing of some chemotherapy drugs.


Obesity and cancer

Scientific evidence suggests that about one-third of cancer deaths in North America each year are related to problems associated with poor nutrition and physical inactivity, particularly resulting from obesity.

According to a recent study by the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 90,000 people in the US die each year from cancers influenced primarily by being overweight. Obese people not only have a higher risk of developing cancer, but they also have a greater risk of dying from cancer—the ACS study showed that the death rates from all types of cancers combined were 52 percent higher in men and 62 percent higher in women who were overweight compared to men and women who were normal weight.

It is therefore very important that you maintain a healthy weight for your height to reduce your risk.


Who is most at risk of cancer?

The risk of developing any type of cancer generally increases with age. Older people are more likely to develop the disease, largely because their cells have had more time to accumulate genetic damage, but also because their immune system is not as efficient at finding and destroying abnormal cells and it takes a long while for some tumors to grow large enough to be diagnosed.


Breast cancer

This type of cancer is the leading cause of death in women between the ages of 40 and 55. Most cases of breast cancer develop in women over 50. At age 30, a womans risk of developing breast cancer is about one in 2,500, but by age 50, her chances are one in 50, rising to one in 14 by age 70. Women who have a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer are at increased risk of developing the disease, as are overweight or obese women, those who started having menstrual periods before age 12, and women who reach menopause after 55.

Women who have their first pregnancy after age 35 and those who have never had a full-term pregnancy also seem to have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. In addition, evidence shows that long-term use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may increase a womans risk of breast cancer.


Prostate cancer

The causes of prostate cancer are not well understood. Many studies have shown that certain factors may increase the risk of the disease. Age is the most important risk factor, as prostate cancer is found mainly in men over age 55. In fact, more than 50 percent of men in North America between the ages of 60 and 70 and as many as 90 percent between the ages of 70 and 90 have prostate cancer. Around 189,000 men in the US are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. A family history ofthe disease also raises your risk. Finally, AfricanAmerican men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer compared to Caucasian men.


Colorectal cancer

In 2003—according to the National Cancer Institute—there were about 105,500 cases of colon cancer and 42,000 cases of rectal cancer in the US. There appears to be a genetic component to the risk for developing colorectal cancer (cancer in either the colon or rectum), but the relationship is complex. About 25 percent of people with colorectal cancer have a family history of the cancer, and the risk of developing the disease increases substantially if two or more relatives have colorectal cancer. It is rare in people under age 40, and usually occurs in people over age 60.


Ways to reduce your risk

If you have a family history of cancer, it is important that you adapt your lifestyle to decrease your risk of getting cancer.


Your weight and exercise

Even a small weight gain can increase your risk, so maintain a stable weight right for your height. If you are currently overweight, exercise and reduce your caloric intake. Regular exercise is linked with a reduced risk of prostate, breast, and colorectal cancer.


Smoking

If you smoke, it is very important to quit. A recent study looking at 3,000 smokers age 40 and over showed that female smokers are twice as likely as male smokers to develop lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer also increases with age and how much you smoke.


Alcohol

It is important to limit or avoid alcohol—many studies have shown that alcohol consumption increases the risk of some cancers, such as breast and colon cancer. People who drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and just one drink per day for women.


Limit free-radical damage

Smoking, not washing fruits and vegetables (to remove harmful nitrates and fertilizers), and other environmental poisons can promote the production of free radicals in the body. Free radicals can cause aging, cancer, and cardiovascular disease so adapt your lifestyle accordingly.


Breast-feed your baby

Recent studies have found that for every year that a woman breast-feeds, her risk of breast cancer goes down by just over four percent, on top of the seven percent reduction for each child she has. This may be because breast-feeding triggers a hormonal change in a womans body that can make her cells more resistant to becoming cancerous.


Nutritional guidelines for preventing cancer

By eating a healthy, balanced diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes and maintaining a healthy weight, as many as one-third of all cancer deaths could be prevented. You should therefore try to include a least one of our “super” cancer-fighting foods in your diet each day (). In addition, you should exercise regularly and limit your consumption of alcohol.


Five a day

Vegetables and fruits contain many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and hundreds of beneficial phytochemicals, some of which have been proven to prevent and fight cancer. For example, some phytochemicals protect DNA (the substance that makes up our genes) from damage and promote DNA repair, which helps explain how these foods reduce the risk. A US study found that women who ate at least two servings of vegetables and fruits daily had a 17 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who ate less than one. Therefore, make sure you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.


Cut down on fatty foods

Diets high in saturated fats are also high in calories and contribute to obesity, which is associated with an increased risk of many cancers, so make sure you eat a low-fat diet. Limit the amount of red meat you eat, especially any that is high in fat, and opt for white-meat poultry, fish, and shellfish instead.


Eat a high fiber diet

Fiber can help eliminate cancer-related toxins and, like antioxidants, helps the body eradicate free radicals. In addition to fruits and vegetables, eating plenty of whole grains will boost your intake of dietary fiber. Whole grains are also a good source of several of the B vitamins and compounds called lignans—which are also found in flaxseed—that may have a protective role against breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers.


Lose weight

By losing a little excess weight, you can make a big difference in reducing your risk for developing cancer. An increase in body weight of as little as five percent in premenopausal women has been shown to significantly increase the risk of breast cancer after menopause, so you should lose weight if necessary. Once you have reached your target weight, work hard to maintain it.


“Super” cancer-fighting foods

No single food can protect you against cancer, but the right combination of foods can really help boost your immune system in the fight against cancer.


Cruciferous vegetables

Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts all contain substances that increase the antioxidant defenses of cells to fight cancer, and switch on enzymes that detoxify carcinogens.


Orange vegetables and fruits

Carrots, pumpkins, mangoes, and squashes all contain antioxidants in the carotenoid family, including beta-carotene, which helps cells defend themselves against changes that can lead to cancer.


Tomatoes

These are rich in lycopene—a potent antioxidant that may protect against prostate cancer. Lycopene levels are higher in cooked tomatoes.


Legumes

These contain substances called saponins, which are thought to prevent cancer cells from multiplying.


Berries

Strawberries and raspberries contain ellagic acid, a type of phenolic acid that reduces the damage to cells caused by smoke and air pollution.


Whole grains

Wheat, rice, oats, and barley, and the foods made from them, are high in fiber and other nutrients and can reduce your risk of cancer.


Nuts and seeds

These are rich in essential fatty acids and phenolic acids, which can help combat prostate cancer. Brazil nuts are also an especially good source of selenium, which studies suggest can help protect against prostate cancer.


Flaxseed

This contains phytochemicals called lignans, which can help combat cancer; this is possibly due to their high fiber content.


Green and black tea

Both of these teas contain numerous active ingredients, including polyphenols, which may protect against stomach cancer, and flavonoids, which may protect against viral infections.


Antioxidants

These chemicals are mainly found in fruits and vegetables and have been shown to reduce the amount of free radicals in the body. They can neutralize free radicals and help repair their damage to body cells. A combination of antioxidants is most beneficial as they all have different protective roles.


Nutritional concerns and cancer

If you are suffering from cancer, there are likely to be times when you feel very weak, your energy levels are down, and you cannot face eating. This may be due to the cancer itself or the treatment you are receiving .


Malabsorption

This may happen if your body is unable to properly absorb nutrients in the normal way. Malabsorption can lead to weight loss because the body does not get the nutrients it requires. Many disorders can cause malabsorption, and it can be treated. The most common symptoms include diarrhea, dehydration, fatigue, and weight loss. To avoid malnutrition, discuss your diet with your doctor and a nutritionist.


Feeling full

The feeling of being full after just a small amount of food is quite common. However, this will quickly lead to weight loss if you do not get enough calories to sustain you. You must make sure you do not become malnourished, so try to eat little but often. Choose small snacks that are packed with vital nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to boost your calorie intake, give you energy, and prevent weight loss .


Loss of appetite

As with feeling full after a small meal, loss of appetite is a common side effect among people with cancer. You may start to lose interest in food, or your appetite may decrease due to pain, nausea, or vomiting , or because you are anxious or depressed about having cancer. Remember that for your body to be strong enough to fight against your condition you need energy. Even if you do not feel like eating, prepare something small that has an appetizing aroma to stimulate your appetite, such as homemade chicken noodle soup or a high-protein snack .


Snacks when you are ill with cancer

If you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment, your energy level may be low and foods may take on unpleasant tastes. For example, meats such as beef and pork may not appeal to you; substituting chicken or veal may be helpful because they have a milder flavor. The following high-protein, calorie-dense foods are good choices for meals or snacks to help you maintain your weight and keep your energy levels up:

Cereal with fruit and whole milk

Fruit yogurt with granola

Instant oatmeal with raisins

Soup with soda crackers

Cream cheese and jelly on an English muffin

Soft-flour tortilla filled with melted cheese

Mixed nuts and crackers


Dealing with the effects of chemotherapy and radiation

Although you may not feel much like eating due to the side effects of your treatment, you can adapt your eating to ensure you still get important nutrients.


Side effects of treatment

Chemotherapy drugs can damage both healthy and cancerous cells. The cells lining the entire gastrointestinal tract may be particularly affected, interfering with your ability to absorb food. You may experience changes in the way food tastes and smells or you may lose your appetite. The following are common side effects associated with these treatments.


Loss of appetite

To improve your appetite, try to eat by the clock. Make breakfast and lunch your main meals, since you may find that you have more energy at these times. If possible, have someone help you prepare meals. Try to avoid having treatment on an empty stomach, which might aggravate symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Eat small, frequent meals and choose high-calorie snacks, such as supplement drinks, desserts, shakes, avocados, nuts, and sandwiches.


Nausea

This is a common complaint among people undergoing cancer treatment. If you have nausea, try frequent small meals or snacks, such as crackers, toast, potato chips, and pretzels, and foods that are easy to digest, such as oatmeal, noodles, or boiled potatoes. Stick with low-fat protein sources, and avoid fried, greasy, and rich foods. Stay away from strong odors, and try to rest, sitting up, after eating. Try sipping apple juice, caffeine-free drinks, or ginger or peppermint teas throughout the day.


Vomiting

Do not eat or drink anything until you have stopped vomiting. When you feel better, try sipping small amounts of water, apple or cranberry juice, ginger ale, sports drinks, broths, and tea. Once these liquids are tolerated, move on to bland foods such as mashed potatoes, rice, and yogurt. Bananas, apricots, and juice can be added when you feel better.


Diarrhea and constipation

When chemotherapy affects intestinal cells, it can cause diarrhea. Tips for treating diarrhea are mentioned here.

Constipation can be caused by some anticancer drugs, pain relievers, and other medications. Tips for treating constipation are mentioned here.


Chewing and swallowing

Mouth sores are a common side effect of chemotherapy. To make foods easier to chew, cut them into bite-sized pieces or grind them up. Choose soft foods and add gravy, sauces, or butter to foods to make them easier to swallow. Avoid highly seasoned, spicy, tart, or acidic foods as they will aggravate the sores. In addition, you should add liquid nutritional supplements to your diet to ensure that it is balanced.


Kidney and bladder

Some anticancer drugs can irritate the bladder or cause temporary or permanent damage to the bladder or kidneys. To treat irritation, drink plenty of fluids, such as water and diluted fruit juice, and choose liquid or soft foods, such as broth, soup, soft fruits, and fruit sorbet, to assure good urine flow and help prevent infection. Cranberry juice, in particular, may reduce your chances of getting a bladder infection.


Weight gain

This can result from medication given during cancer treatment, and is more common during the treatment of breast and prostate cancers. Weight gain may also result from overeating due to the stress of having cancer.

To avoid excessive weight gain, choose lean cuts of red meat, white-meat chicken and turkey, and fish; opt for low-fat dairy products; eat more vegetables and fruits; avoid high-fat, high-calorie snacks such as chips, candy, cookies, and ice cream; and make sure you exercise regularly. See The truth about weight control for more hints and tips.


Diets and cancer

Some people feel the need to go on a radical diet when diagnosed with cancer, but the body needs nutrients so a diet can be counter productive.


Fad diets

In the past, fad diets, such as eating only grapes, eliminating dairy products, just eating raw food, and other such radical approaches, have all been tried. In fact, eating raw food is not a good idea, because people undergoing radiation therapy are especially susceptible to infection and may be advised to follow a germ-free (neutropenic) diet.


Macrobiotic diet

This vegetarian diet has been long promoted as an alternative cancer therapy, and has been proven to reduce rates of progression of prostate cancer and reduce the risk of colon cancer by 25 percent. However, the diet lacks certain vitamins and minerals, and supplements are often required.

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