One of the things that researchers are studying like crazy is the process by which cancer takes root and grows in the body. Our diet plays a huge role in this process (witness the much lower incidence of cancers in India, for example, despite the much higher incidence of carcinogens!).  For your own health, and for the health of your future patients, I highly recommend David Servan-Schreiber’s book, Anticancer: A New Way of Life, which came out last year. David is an MD who developed brain cancer and went through successful medical treatment. However, his tumor recurred, and at that point he decided he needed to change his way of life. This book describes the effects diet and stress have on the growth of cancer – and before you blow that off as being too foofy or alternative, you should know that he backs up every point he makes with tons of research from accomplished scientists at respected places like Harvard and M.D. Anderson. Much of this post is from information described in David’s book.

The process of tumor growth is much like the growth of weeds. Tumors grow in three phases: 1) initiation, 2) promotion, and 3) progression. Initiation is the phase when a seed settles in the soil, promotion is the phase when the seed becomes a plant, and progression is the phase when the plant becomes a weed (developing beyond control, invading flower beds and growing right up to the sidewalk).

Initiation (the planting of the seed) depends largely on our genes and on toxins (radiation, carcinogens, etc.). But promotion (the growth of the seed) depends on having the right survival conditions: favorable soil, water, and sun. The cool thing is that promotion is reversible! If you can change the tumor’s environment, you can prevent it from spreading. Diet plays a role – probably a big role – in the creation of a favorable vs. unfavorable tumor environment.

Cancer “fertilizers”

Here are some dietary substances that create a fertile soil for cancers:

Refined sugars (drive up proinflammatory insulin and insulin-like growth factor, or IGF)
Insufficient omega-3s/excess omega-6s (favor inflammation)
Growth hormones in meat and non-organic dairy products (stimulate IGF)

Okay, what diet does this sound like? Lots of sugar, bad fats, and meat – the typical Western diet.

Cancer inhibitors

So, what should we eat? In addition to avoiding saturated fat, sugar, meat and non-organic stuff, a good cancer-fighting diet would include some/all of the following:

Catechins (in green tea) – inhibit angiogenesis

Phytoestrogens (in soy products) – block overstimulation of tumors by estrogen; prevent angiogenesis

Curcumin (in turmeric) – inhibits inflammation, inhibits angiogenesis, promotes apoptosis in tumor cells

Ellagic acid (in berries) – inhibits angiogenesis, blocks transformation of environmental carcinogens into toxic substances

Anthocyanidins (in blueberries, cranberries, cinnamon, dark chocolate) – promote apoptosis in tumor cells

Terpenes (in mint, thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, rosemary) – inhibit tumor cell invasion, promote apoptosis in tumor cells, inhibit angiogenesis

Gingerol (in ginger) – inhibits inflammation and angiogenesis

Sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol (in cruciform veggies) – prevent precancerous cells from becoming malignant; promote apoptosis of tumor cells, inhibit angiogenesis

Sulfur compounds (in garlic and onions) – reduce carcinogenic effects of nitrosamines (created in overgrilled meat and present in tobacco); promote apoptosis in tumor cells; help regulate blood sugar levels.

Lycopene (in carrots, yams, other bright colored veggies and fruits) – stimulates NK cells to become more aggressive; inhibits tumor cell growth

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (in fatty fish) – reduce cancer cell growth, prevent metastasis

Vitamin D (sun, cod liver oil, milk (tiny amount), vitamins) – dramatically reduces risk of several cancers

Polyphenols (red wine, chocolate) – block NF-kappa B (important in all three stages of cancer development: initiation, promotion, progression), limit angiogenesis

Photo credit: L’eau Bleue (, under cc license.