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The Connection Between Nutrition and Cancer

Jill Hamilton-Reeves, PhD

October 07, 2019

About 1 out of 3 of the most common cancers are related to poor diet and a lack of physical activity.

To prevent cancer, the American Institute for Cancer Research recommends changing 3 important dietary patterns:

  1. Increase the consumption of plant-based foods.

  2. Limit the intake of red meat and alcoholic drinks.

  3. Avoid processed meat, sugary drinks and salty processed food.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle by following a good diet and being physically active is highly important during cancer treatment to support the body with nutrients and avoid weight change.

At The University of Kansas Cancer Center, our Nutrition Shared Resource group, which is comprised of nutrition experts, supports the investigation of novel nutrition strategies for cancer prevention and treatment.

In this multipart series, I’ve broken nutrition-focused blog and vlog posts into small, bite-sized pieces. I’ll highlight a few of the important discoveries made by researchers at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, as well as nutrition tips for cancer patients.

How good nutrition helps cancer patients

Bladder cancer survivors who have had a radical cystectomy (a surgical procedure that removes all or part of the bladder) are at significant risk of infection, rapid muscle wasting and complications due to impaired immune function and postsurgical stress. However, solutions are being explored.

Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center tested a nutrition drink high in arginine, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A compared to a control drink, an identical nutrition supplement lacking the immuno-modulators. In this randomized pilot trial, we found that giving the nutrition drink before and after surgery reduced complications by 33% and most notably, reduced infections by 39% compared to the control drink.

The nutrients had immediate effects on immune and inflammatory responses, muscle sparing and wound healing after cystectomy. While the results are encouraging, the team will next lead a national clinical trial to confirm whether this intervention can significantly reduce complications.

What you can do now: In the meantime, cancer patients should choose a diet ample in fish, fruits and vegetables to support the immune system.

Weight loss reduces cancer risk

Excess body weight contributes to as many as 1 in 5 cancer-related deaths and is associated with increased risk of at least 8 types of cancer. It is important to avoid being overweight or obese, and staying as lean as possible. Weight loss actually reduces cancer markers in the blood and breast tissue of overweight women.

Women at high risk of developing breast cancer may reduce risk by avoiding obesity or losing weight if overweight or obese. Researchers at The University of Kansas Cancer Center found favorable effects on blood and tissue markers of breast cancer risk with a 10% weight loss in overweight and obese women. This team is leading several studies to test weight loss in combination with omega-3 fatty acids to prevent breast cancer.

What you can do now: Eating a healthy and balanced diet plays a vital role in weight reduction. In addition, walking for at least 30 minutes or incorporating other physical activities every day helps to avoid becoming obese.

Doctor's orders: Adopt healthy habits

Maintaining or adopting a healthy lifestyle is highly recommended to help prevent and treat cancer, and our experts are always striving to identify innovative cancer-fighting nutrition strategies. If you or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, reach out to us for help. Cancer care can be very complex, but feeding yourself or a loved one can be simplified by a nutrition professional. Providing good nutrition can help families come together to help fuel a patient before, during and after cancer treatment.

Request your appointment today.

To make an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, call 913-588-1227.

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