"Let your medicine be your food and your food be your medicine." In other words, eating right will keep your body in good condition. Cancer patients find it even more important to eat right - during treatment, their dietary intake can literally become a matter of life and death. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are the most common treatments designed to stop the spread of cancer by killing and/or removing cancerous cells. Unfortunately, in the process of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, many of the body's healthy cells are also damaged or destroyed. During these treatments the body is working unusually hard: fighting the cancer cells, and attending to the damage to healthy cells caused by the therapy by repairing and replacing already-damaged cells. The strain of these combined tasks is considerable, and the body requires a proportionally higher amount of nutrients just to maintain standard body functions. Those same nutrients are also needed as building blocks for the functions that will repair all the collateral cellular damage caused by therapy which may be distant from the actual site of treatment. If there aren't enough nutrients to go around, this will lead to malnutrition, a condition where the body is not taking in enough of the right kind of nutrients, forcing it to take them from stores in the fat or actually breaking down existing lean body mass (muscle tissue) to obtain what is needed. Malnutrition is very dangerous -- many studies have shown that weight loss drastically increases the mortality rate for most types of cancer while also lowering the response to chemotherapy. Of course, the reverse also seems to be true - in fact, a diet rich in the proper nutrients can often lessen the side effects of treatment and may even shorten recovery time. In most cases, malnutrition can be prevented by simply eating enough foods rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants. This includes plenty of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings a day), whole grain breads and cereals, lean cuts of meat (chicken, turkey or fish), and low-fat dairy products. For patients with oral cancer, eating properly can pose a difficult problem. The proper nutrients assist the body in rebuilding damaged cells, but anti-oxidants may actually fight the cancer directly. An article published last year in the International Journal of Integrative Medicine states that an increase in survival has been demonstrated for patients who received Vitamin A or other anti-oxidants in combination with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. This finding was observed for patients with oral and several other kinds of cancer. Patients who were given beta-carotene and other anti-oxidants while undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation lived longer, with an increase in disease-free intervals. What not to eat is nearly as important. Cutting back on salt, fat, alcohol and sugar intake is essential. Not only are these "empty calories", but in some cases they may assist the continuingdevelopment of cancer in the body For instance, researchers now feel that some tumors are primarily obligate glucose metabolizers; in other words, these tumors are "sugar feeders". In one animal study, there was even a clear dose-dependent response, the more sugar in the diet, the quicker the cancer metastasized in the test animals. Eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones may be difficult to adjust to at times, but it is certainly possible. Unfortunately, the nutrition battle often doesn't stop there. The very side effects of the treatment that make a proper diet essential can often interfere with the act of eating itself, particularly for those with oral cancers. Since the healthy cells suffering damage include those in the mouth or digestive tract, an oral cancer patient can develop serious eating problems such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, blistered mouth or throat tissues (mucositis), dry mouth (xerostomia), changes in taste, and fatigue. For those who suffer these side effects, eating the proper foods is difficult if not impossible; and as a cancer patient's survival can be dependant on how he or she takes care of their body during treatment, these considerations must be addressed. Those experiencing nausea or loss of appetite should press themselves to eat small frequent meals. Another method is to time meals to coincide with periods during the day when the patient is feeling best (generally, patients tend to feel better and have improved appetites early in the day with a progressive decrease in appetite as the day progresses.) Avoid strong aromas if they contribute to the feeling of nausea, such as serving cold rather than hot foods, since odors come from the rising steam. Also, here's a medical excuse to order out! Food ordered from outside (so that preparation odors are not detected) will often be more tolerable if consumed immediately after arrival. For those with changes in taste, dieticians have developed many different suggestions to make meals more palatable. Always rinse your mouth before eating. Serve meats chilled rather than hot, and try to substitute poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese for red meat. Another substitute for red meat: milk shakes, puddings, ice cream, cheese, and other high-protein foods. Lemon-flavored drinks will stimulate saliva and taste, but avoid artificial lemon and use sweeteners sparingly. As radiation treatments produce mucositis, it may not be possible to tolerate acidic foods or strongly spiced foods, as treatment progresses. Finally, use disposable plastic utensils if patient experiences unpleasant metallic tastes while eating. Dry mouth sufferers can eat soft or moist foods, (process foods in a blender if applicable). Creams, gravies, or oils can "lubricate" foods to make them easier to eat. Poaching fish in broth yields a tasteful and moisture rich food vs. cooking it by other methods that may be difficult to swallow. It may also help to avoid excessively hot or cold foods, or foods that adhere to the roof of the mouth. Take small bites and chew thoroughly. Nearly all chemotherapy patients should drink more fluids in general and especially after certain chemotherapy treatments, but for those with a sore or blistered mouth or throat, fluids can become absolutely essential. Water, juice, soups, ice cream, ice pops, tea, milk, and gelatin are all suitable fluids. If your doctor has not restricted your fluid intake, try to drink at least six 8- ounce glasses of fluids a day. It may be easier to sip fluids frequently throughout the day as opposed to drinking full servings all at once. Many patients find that drinking nutritional supplements (such as Ensure ®, Resource ®, Boost ® ), or instant breakfast drinks add the essential vitamins and protein when the actual act of swallowing may be too discomforting. We recommend that oral cancer patients try making their own shakes in a blender. The combination of fresh fruits and protein powder derived from soy or whey, with yogurt, milk, or fruit juices, can make the difference when the actual act of eating or chewing is too painful. For those on a feeding tube, the blender drinks will be their first transition to real food, and an important step in regaining a sense of normality to eating. Cancer patients may also consider nutritional supplements, especially for the times when they feel they cannot eat enough. Although certain nutrient supplements may not work as well as whole foods, there is a general feeling that taking recommended doses of certain vitamins can assist the process in most cases. Many of these are available in liquid or powder form which can be incorporated into a blender drink. Consult your doctor or dietician for more information. No matter what the symptoms of the treatment, a person with cancer should try to maintain a positive attitude toward maintaining their diet. A change in one's diet "because the doctor told me to" is the easiest and least helpful attitude, while eating better "because I want to do everything I can to beat this thing" is much more productive. After all, any cancer patient who tries to keep a good diet is contributing to his or her treatment as much as the medical professional. This is one area in which the patient can feel some sense of control and involvement; two things that many feel are lost during the treatment process. Also, keeping a good nutritional state can help people with cancer feel and look better and can help them maintain the physical strength to optimize day-to-day life. Because, in the end, this battle is fought day-to-day, and the best assistance the patient can provide is good nutrition and a positive attitude. Cancer Fighting Foods/Spices The National Cancer Institute estimates that roughly one-third of all cancer deaths may be diet related. What you eat can hurt you, but it can also help you. Many of the common foods found in grocery stores or organic markets contain cancer-fighting properties, from the antioxidants that neutralize the damage caused by free radicals to the powerful phytochemicals that scientists are just beginning to explore. There isn't a single element in a particular food that does all the work: The best thing to do is eat a variety of foods. The following foods have the ability to help stave off cancer and some can even help inhibit cancer cell growth or reduce tumor size. Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower have a chemical component called indole-3-carbinol that can combat breast cancer by converting a cancer-promoting estrogen into a more protective variety. Broccoli, especially sprouts, also have the phytochemical sulforaphane, a product of glucoraphanin - believed to aid in preventing some types of cancer, like colon and rectal cancer. Sulforaphane induces the production of certain enzymes that can deactivate free radicals and carcinogens. The enzymes have been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors in laboratory animals. However, be aware that the Agriculture Department studied 71 types of broccoli plants and found a 30-fold difference in the amounts of glucoraphanin. It appears that the more bitter the broccoli is, the more glucoraphanin it has. Broccoli sprouts have been developed under the trade name BroccoSprouts that have a consistent level of sulforaphane - as much as 20 times higher than the levels found in mature heads of broccoli. Carrots contain a lot of beta carotene, which may help reduce a wide range of cancers including lung, mouth, throat, stomach, intestine, bladder, prostate and breast. Some research indicated beta carotene may actually cause cancer, but this has not proven that eating carrots, unless in very large quantities - 2 to 3 kilos a day, can cause cancer. In fact, a substance called falcarinol that is found in carrots has been found to reduce the risk of cancer, according to researchers at Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences (DIAS). Kirsten Brandt, head of the research department, explained that isolated cancer cells grow more slowly when exposed to falcarinol. This substance is a polyacethylen, however, so it is important not to cook the carrots. Chili peppers and jalapenos contain a chemical, capsaicin, which may neutralize certain cancer-causing substances (nitrosamines) and may help prevent cancers such as stomach cancer. Cruciferous vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage contain two antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin that may help decrease prostate and other cancers. Figs apparently have a derivative of benzaldehyde. It has been reported that investigators at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research in Tokyo say benzaldehyde is highly effective at shrinking tumors, though I haven't seen this report. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says figs, which contain vitamins A and C, and calcium, magnesium and potassium, may curtail appetite and improve weight-loss efforts. Fig juice is also a potent bacteria killer in test-tube studies. Flax contains lignans, which may have an antioxidant effect and block or suppress cancerous changes. Flax is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to protect against colon cancer and heart disease. See Budwig diet for a specialized diet using flax seed oil and cottage cheese. For studies about flax seed and flax oil, go to our Important News or Archives Page. Garlic has immune-enhancing allium compounds (dialyl sultides) that appear to increase the activity of immune cells that fight cancer and indirectly help break down cancer causing substances. These substances also help block carcinogens from entering cells and slow tumor development. Diallyl sulfide, a component of garlic oil, has also been shown to render carcinogens in the liver inactive. Studies have linked garlic — as well as onions, leeks, and chives — to lower risk of stomach and colon cancer. Dr. Lenore Arab, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the UNC-CH (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) schools of public health and medicine and colleagues analyzed a number of studies and reported their findings in the October 2000 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. According to the report, people who consume raw or cooked garlic regularly face about half the risk of stomach cancer and two-thirds the risk of colorectal cancer as people who eat little or none. Their studies didn't show garlic supplements had the same effect. It is believed garlic may help prevent stomach cancer because it has anti-bacterial effects against a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, found in the stomach and known to promote cancer there. Avocados are rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that attacks free radicals in the body by blocking intestinal absorption of certain fats. They also supply even more potassium than bananas and are a strong source of beta-carotene. Scientists also believe that avocados may also be useful in treating viral hepatitis (a cause of liver cancer), as well as other sources of liver damage. Sweet potatoes contain many anticancer properties, including beta-carotene, which may protect DNA in the cell nucleus from cancer-causing chemicals outside the nuclear membrane. Teas: Green Tea and Black tea contain certain antioxidants known as polyphenols (catechins) which appear to prevent cancer cells from dividing. Green tea is best, followed by our more common black tea (herbal teas do not show this benefit). According to a report in the July 2001 issue of the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, these polyphenols that are abundant in green tea, red wine and olive oil, may protect against various types of cancer. Dry green tea leaves, which are about 40% polyphenols by weight, may also reduce the risk of cancer of the stomach, lung, colon, rectum, liver and pancreas, study findings have suggested. Tapioca is derived from the cassava plant. It is one of the many plants that manufactures cyanide by producing a chemical called linamarine which releases hydrogen cyanide when it is broken down by the linamarase enzyme. Spanish researches have been studying the cassava and attempting to clone the genes from the plant which are responsible for producing the hydrogen cyanide and then transfer it to a retrovirus. However, funding for the project has run out. http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/health/newsid_317000/317467.stm for more information on this. For a list of other foods that contain B17, go to our laetrile page. Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that attacks roaming oxygen molecules, known as free radicals, that are suspected of triggering cancer. It appears that the hotter the weather, the more lycopene tomatoes produce. They also have vitamin C, an antioxidant which can prevent cellular damage that leads to cancer. Watermelons, carrots, and red peppers also contain these substances, but in lesser quantities. It is concentrated by cooking tomatoes. Scientists in Israel have shown that lycopene can kill mouth cancer cells. An increased intake of lycopene has already been linked to a reduced risk of breast, prostate, pancreas and colorectal cancer. (Note: Recent studies indicate that for proper absorption, the body also needs some oil along with lycopene.) Tumeric (curcuma longa), a member of the ginger family, is believed to have medicinal properties because it inhibits production of the inflammation-related enzyme cyclo-oxygenase 2 (COX-2), levels of which are abnormally high in certain inflammatory diseases and cancers, especially bowel and colon cancer. In fact, a pharmaceutical company Phytopharm in the UK hopes to introduce a natural product, P54, that contains certain volatile oils, which greatly increase the potency of the turmeric spice. Turnips are said to contain glucose molaes which is a cancer fighting compound. I haven't confirmed this. Consumption of fruits and vegetables has been associated with decreased risk of cancers of the colon and rectum. There are many good books on this topic, including Vern Verona's book on "Cancer Fighting Foods." Grapefruits, like oranges and other citrus fruits, contain monoterpenes, believed to help prevent cancer by sweeping carcinogens out of the body. Some studies show that grapefruit may inhibit the proliferation of breast-cancer cells in vitro. They also contains vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folic acid. Grapes, red contain bioflavonoids, powerful antioxidants that work as cancer preventives. Grapes are also a rich source of resveratrol, which inhibits the enzymes that can stimulate cancer-cell growth and suppress immune response. They also contain ellagic acid, a compound that blocks enzymes that are necessary for cancer cells - this appears to help slow the growth of tumors. Studies show that consumption of green and yellow leafy vegetables has been associated with lower levels of stomach cancer. Kale has indoles, nitrogen compounds which may help stop the conversion of certain lesions to cancerous cells in estrogen-sensitive tissues. In addition, isothiocyanates, phytochemicals found in kale, are thought to suppress tumor growth and block cancer-causing substances from reaching their targets. Licorice root has a chemical, glycyrrhizin, that blocks a component of testosterone and therefore may help prevent the growth of prostate cancer. However, excessive amounts can lead to elevated blood pressure. Mushrooms - There are a number of mushrooms that appear to help the body fight cancer and build the immune system - Shiitake, maitake, reishi, Agaricus blazei Murill, and Coriolus Versicolor. These mushrooms contain polysaccharides, especially Lentinan, powerful compounds that help in building immunity. They are a source of Beta Glucan. They also have a protein called lectin, which attacks cancerous cells and prevents them from multiplying. They also contain Thioproline. These mushrooms can stimulate the production of interferon in the body. Extracts from mushrooms have been successfully tested in recent years in Japan as an adjunct to chemotherapy. PSK is made from the Coriolus Versicolor. Maitake mushroom extract is PCM4. Nuts contain the antioxidants quercetin and campferol that may suppress the growth of cancers. Brazil nut contains 80 micrograms of selenium, which is important for those with prostate cancer. (Note: Many people are allergic to the proteins in nuts, so if you have any symptoms such as itchy mouth, tight throat, wheezing, etc. after eating nuts, stop. Consider taking a selenium supplement instead or work with someone on how to eliminate this allergy.) Oranges and lemons contain Iimonene which stimulates cancer-killing immune cells (lymphocytes, e.g.) that may also break down cancer-causing substances. Papayas have vitamin C that works as an antioxidant and may also reduce absorption of cancer- causing nitrosamines from the soil or processed foods. Papaya contains folacin (also known as folic acid), which has been shown to minimize cervical dysplasia and certain cancers. Raspberries contain many vitamins, minerals, plant compounds and antioxidants known as anthocyanins that may protect against cancer. According to a recent research study reported by Cancer Research 2001;61:6112-6119, rats fed diets of 5% to 10% black raspberries saw the number of esophageal tumors decrease by 43% to 62%. A diet containing 5% black raspberries was more effective than a diet containing 10% black raspberries. Research reported in the journal Nutrition and Cancer in May 2002 shows black raspberries may also thwart colon cancer. Black raspberries are rich in antioxidants, thought to have even more cancer-preventing properties than blueberries and strawberries. Rosemary may help increase the activity of detoxification enzymes. An extract of rosemary, termed carnosol, has inhibited the development of both breast and skin tumors in animals. We haven't found any studies done on humans. Rosemary can be used as a seasoning. It can also be consumed as a tea: Use 1 tsp. dried leaves per cup of hot water; steep for 15 minutes. Seaweed and other sea vegetables contain beta-carotene, protein, vitamin B12, fiber, and chlorophyll, as well as chlorophylones - important fatty acids that may help in the fight against breast cancer. Many sea vegetables also have high concentrations of the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and iodine.\ Soy products like tofu contain several types of phytoestrogens — weak, nonsteroidal estrogens that could help prevent both breast and prostate cancer by blocking and suppressing cancerous changes. There are a number of isoflavones in soy products, but research has shown that genistein is the most potent inhibitor of the growth and spread of cancerous cells. It appears to lower breast-cancer risk by inhibiting the growth of epithelial cells and new blood vessels that tumors require to flourish and is being scrutinized as a potential anti-cancer drug. However, there are some precautions to consider when adding soy to your diet. Eating up to 4 or 5 ounces of tofu or other soy a day is probably ok, but research is being done to see if loading up on soy could cause hormone imbalances that stimulate cancer growth. As a precaution, women who have breast cancer or are at high risk should talk to their doctors before taking pure isoflavone powder and pills, extracted from soy. Red wine, even without alcohol, has polyphenols that may protect against various types of cancer. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants, compounds that help neutralize disease-causing free radicals. Also, researchers at the University of North Carolina's medical school in Chapel Hill found the compound resveratrol, which is found in grape skins. It appears that resveratrol inhibits cell proliferation and can help prevent cancer. However, the findings didn't extend to heavy imbibers, so it should be used in moderation. In addition, alcohol can be toxic to the liver and to the nervous system, and many wines have sulfites, which may be harmful to your health. Note: some research indicates that alcohol is considered a class "A" carcinogen which can actually cause cancer - see http://www.jrussellshealth.com/alccanc.html. You should probably switch to non-alcoholic wines.