7 Top Diet Habits Linked to Increased Rates of Cancer

©. Prostock-studio

New research finds diet-related factors may account for more than 80,000 new invasive cancer cases each year; here are the main culprits.

When considering wishes for the world, finding the cure for cancer is always right up there with attaining world peace and ending global hunger. And for good reason; cancer is a monster. It is the second leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths. It causes pain, suffering, and grief – not to mention the more than $80 billion spent each year on cancer-related healthcare.

What’s profound about this is that exactly nobody wants cancer, but much of it is preventable. For instance, on average some 138,000 people die every year in the U.S. from lung cancer related to smoking or second-hand smoke.

Most of us now know that smoking comes with cancer risk – but how many of us understand just how much dietary habits are associated with increased risk of cancer?

Now, a new study form Tufts has crunched the numbers to find an estimated number, proportion, and type of specific cancers associated with food intake. Looking at the under or overconsumption of foods and sugar-sweetened beverages among American adults, the analysis is one of the few to focus on the modifiable risk factors for cancer connected to the food we eat or don’t eat.

The researchers estimated that diet-related factors accounted for 80,110 of the new invasive cancer cases reported in 2015.

A predominant number of cancer cases linked to a poor diet were for colorectal cancer; 52,225 cases of such for the year studied. Next was cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx (14,421), uterine cancer (3,165), breast cancer (post-menopausal) (3,059), kidney cancer (2,017), stomach cancer (1,564), and liver cancer (1,000).

Here are the dietary components at play, in order:

1. Low whole grain intake

This was associated with the largest number and proportion of new cancer cases, with convincing or probable evidence of a link to colorectal cancer risk.

2. Low dairy intake

That low dairy intake was linked to convincing or probable evidence for colorectal cancer risk surprised me, but the study reveals the reason: “both dairy products and foods high in calcium decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, and dairy products are an important source of calcium.”

3. High processed meat intake

For eating a lot of high processed meat, they found convincing or probable evidence for colorectal cancer risk; high processed meat consumption was also linked to stomach cancer risk.

4 & 5. Low vegetable and fruit intake

Your mother was right. The findings revealed convincing or probable evidence for low vegetable and fruit intake connected to colorectal cancer risk, as well as the risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx.

6. High red meat intake

Eating a lot of red meat led to convincing or probable evidence for colorectal cancer risk.

7. High intake of sugar-sweetened beverages

The researchers also included sugar-sweetened beverages in the study due to known associations between obesity and 13 types of cancer.

The team came to these conclusions using a Comparative Risk Assessment model that incorporated nationally representative data on dietary intake, national cancer incidence, and estimated associations of diet with cancer risk from meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies.

"Our findings underscore the opportunity to reduce cancer burden and disparities in the United States by improving food intake," said lead author Fang Fang Zhang, a cancer and nutrition researcher at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts.

Through education, awareness, and holding tobacco companies accountable, the number of smokers has declined steadily over the last few decades. Can we do the same thing for improving diets? We need more education, more awareness, and more accountability from food manufactures. Everyone wants a cure for cancer, but in the meantime, modifying one's diet could lead to a lot fewer new cases of cancer in the first place.

The study was published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum.