By the year 2015, the American Cancer Society estimates it will achieve its goal of identifying the causes of cancer. Some facts are already known and can be put into practice right now.


A talk originally given to American Cancer Society supporters



By the year 2015, the American Cancer Society estimates it will achieve its goal of identifying the causes of cancer. Some facts are already known and can be put into practice right now. Scientists estimate that as much as 80% of all cancers are caused by environmental and life-style related factors. At least 35% are diet related and in men this may be as high as 50%. Tobacco use is directly related to at least 30% of all cancers, particularly lung cancer; when poor diet is included the incidence is much higher. Exercise is another lifestyle factor that plays a synergistic approach. If you eat well, you have more stamina and you feel better about yourself. You are also reducing your risk for all types of cancer.

Here are some foods that contain protective nutrients. Remember, plants can't move away from danger like animals. They have to protect themselves from the sun's ultraviolet rays, from insects and birds and from the elements. By eating these foods we can passively receive similar benefits.


These are molecules that protect cells from free radical damage, whether it comes from metabolism to produce energy on the inside, or from the interactions with the environment. Examples of foods rich in antioxidants are: apricots, cantaloupe containing the orange pigments beta-carotene and lycopene. These are also called carotenoids and they are found in carrots and sweet potatoes and many dark green leafy vegetables where the green of chlorophyll masks the carotene color. Apples, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, grapefruits and lemons are excellent sources of vitamin C and the bioflavonoids ellagic acid, quercetin and rutin. All of the above plant based nutrients or phytonutrients protect the cells and mucus membranes of our bodies helping to provide immune protection.


These are specially targeted phytonutrients that are not only antioxidants but also actively involved in balancing enzyme activity inside cells. These include phytoestrogens genistein and daidzein, the Bowman-Birk and other protease inhibitors found in soy and other members of the legume family (beans, peas, etc.). Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.) contain anticarcinogens called isothiocyanates and are valuable additions to the anticancer arsenal.

Dietary Fiber

This non-nutritive part of our diet protects from cancer in a variety of ways. Firstly, because it provides a healthy colon by stimulating muscle activity with its bulk, encouraging "friendly" bacteria such as acidophilus and bifidus to grow and minimizing yeast overgrowth by maintaining a healthy acid/base balance. Secondly, dietary fiber provides bulk that speeds the transit through the colon and reduces any tendency to constipation. Thirdly, this bulk dilutes any potentially harmful dietary components and reduces the time they might interact with the walls of the intestine. This is one reason why a high fiber diet is associated with a lower incidence of colo-rectal cancers. Finally, when you eat dietary fiber you are eating fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and other foods from the plant kingdom. You are therefore eating less of the foods from the animal kingdom that don't have any fiber in them. This shift of emphasis also affects the balance of steroid hormones in your body starting with the precursor molecule cholesterol and including the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These long chain fatty acids include the essential nutrient alpha-linolenic acid and the fatty acids docosohexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosopentanoic acid (EPA). The latter two are found in oily fish like salmon, herrings or sardines. Most fruits and vegetables contain small quantities of the omega-3 fatty acids including Brussels sprouts, mushrooms and the nuts English walnuts and macadamias. These fatty acids balance the more common omega-6 fatty acids found in corn and soy oils as well as the fats of meat and dairy products. Eating more omega-3's and less omega-6's favors anti-inflammatory actions in the body and is supportive to your immune system in general. Future research may support these fats as being particularly useful for breast and prostate cancer prevention.

Other Traditional Remedies

Garlic has been recognized as an anticancer agent and protector since the time of Hippocrates. It has antiseptic properties and is a good source of selenium. Green tea and red wine contain antioxidant flavonoids that are also protective. Spices are rich sources of anticarcinogens including coriander, cumin, turmeric and ginger. Seaweeds and kelp also contain anticarcinogens and beneficial dietary fiber in the form of mucigens.

The Bottom Line

EAT AT LEAST 5 SERVINGS OF FRUITS AND VEGETABLES EACH DAY. For those at risk because of family history of cancer it is recommended that you consume 8-10 servings daily.

More information on optimizing nutrition during cancer treatments can be found in
The Cancer Nutrition Handbook, covering recommended supplements and more...