Nutrition for Cancer Survivors

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If you are a cancer survivor undergoing cancer treatment or are cancer free, you might ask, what next? What dietary changes can you make to protect yourself from a recurrence or secondary cancers? Do the dietary guidelines that help protect against primary tumors also affect its recurrence? Since research is lacking, health professionals are reluctant to make recommendations, leaving survivors confused and frustrated. With more than 9 million American cancer survivors, the need for resources and programs to help deal with these issues has emerged.

Experts from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) have issued 7 guidelines for cancer survivors. The guidelines are intended to help cancer survivors, following treatment, choose foods that will reduce risk of secondary tumors or recurrence of their cancer:

1. Choose a predominantly plant-based diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits.
2. If eaten at all, limit intake of red meat to less than 3 ounces daily.
3. Limit consumption of fatty foods, particularly those of animal origin. Choose healthier omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnuts and fatty fish over omega-6 fatty acids found in corn oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil, which may foster tumor growth.
4. Limit consumption of salted foods and use of cooking and table salt. Use herbs and spices to season foods.
5. Limit alcoholic drinks to less than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 for women.
6. Do not eat charred food. Consume the following only occasionally: meat and fish grilled in direct flame, cured and smoked meats.
7. Avoid being overweight and limit weight gain during adulthood. Take an hour-long brisk walk or similar exercise daily.

More information on these guidelines can be found on AICR’s new online Cancer Survivor’s Guide at

(Note: If you are undergoing cancer treatment, talk to your cancer center’s dietitian or e-mail an AICR registered dietitian at or call AICR’s Nutrition Hotline toll free at 800-843-8114 to speak to a registered dietitian.)

Research on new survivor-related dietary issues is currently underway including antioxidants, soy foods, flaxseed, selenium, vitamin C, exercise and weight management. While dietary changes are no guarantee that you will never suffer a recurrence or secondary cancer, a healthful diet will improve the quality of your life and reduce your risk of other chronic diseases.

Where to Learn More
• Dietary Options for Cancer Survivors, 2002 AICR ($12; call 800-843-8114 or visit
• Nutrition After Cancer: The Role of Diet in Cancer Survivorship, 2002 AICR – Includes presentations from Role of Diet in Cancer Survi-vorship seminars held in 2001.
• Nutrition and the Cancer Survivor – A brochure by AICR offers nutritional information for survivors who have finished undergoing cancer treatment.
• Nutrition of the Cancer Patient – An AICR brochure addressing the nutritional concerns of survivors undergoing or recently completing treatment. (free)
• A Dietitian’s Cancer Story by cancer and nutrition specialist Diana Dyer, MS, RD ($16; visit – Diana Dyer is a 3-time cancer survivor and registered dietitian.
• National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship – Visit
• American Dietetic Association – Visit or call Consumer Nutrition Hotline: 1-800-366-1655. Ask to be referred to a registered dietitian (RD) who specializes in oncology nutrition in your area.

By Sandy Sotnick, MS, RD

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