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Can diet prevent cancer?

Experts agree that a healthy diet can boost your defences against cancer. Find out more about healthy eating habits.

The link between diet and cancer isn’t fully understood. Scientists disagree over the details, but most agree that diet is one of the factors that influence your cancer risk.


The charity Cancer Research UK (CRUK) says the food you eat can affect your chances of developing some cancers, including bowel, stomach, mouth and foodpipe (oesophagus) cancer. Eating lots of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb, can increase your chances of developing bowel or stomach cancer, as can consuming a lot of processed meat products, such as bacon, sausages and salami.


Eating too much salt could increase your chances of getting stomach cancer, and eating too much saturated fat (found in various foods, including butter, meat, cream, cheese and palm oil) could increase your risk of breast cancer. Aim to eat no more than the recommended 6g (about 1 teaspoon) of salt a day.

Are you a healthy weight? Find out with the healthy weight calculator

CRUK recommends that you eat a diet high in fibre, fruit and vegetables, and low in fat, red meat and processed meat. Find out more about eating a healthy diet.

It’s also important to follow a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise to keep your weight at the right level for your age, height and sex. This can also be a factor in developing cancer. Specialists now believe that around a quarter of all cancers are caused by obesity and unhealthy diets. According to the World Health Organization, being overweight or obese is the second most important known cause of cancer after tobacco (smoking).

Having a healthy, balanced diet doesn’t just reduce your chance of developing cancer, but it can also help you recover from it.

"Eating and drinking a balanced diet plays an important part in coping with having cancer and its treatments,” says a CRUK spokesman. “Up to four in ten people have unintended weight loss when their cancer is diagnosed, or have problems with nutrition early on. 

"If you're eating and drinking well, you’ll be able to cope better and recover faster. This could improve your chance of survival.

“You need a balanced diet, with plenty of calories, to keep your immune system working well. This can help you fight off infections, as well as helping your body to fight the cancer.”

Find out more about cancer.


Last reviewed: 11/12/2009

Next review due: 11/12/2011


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Healthy eating

Information on how to achieve a balanced diet, tips to help you get your 5 a day and advice for vegetarians

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