Hot off the press … about diet, nutrition, and cancer


When it comes to relationships between diet, nutrition, and cancer, “No conclusions should be made on the basis of a single study,” is the guidance from Walter Willet, MD, DrPH. Dr Willet is a leading authority on the subject who works at the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, Massachusetts.

On Wednesday, Dr. Willet presented an overview entitled “Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer: The Search for Truth,”at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Denver. In this overview, he reviewed many of the associations that have been suggested by epidemiologic studies. However, Dr. Willet was very clear that much of the evidence for these links is rather weak. In his view, second only to the impact of smoking, the most robust evidence supports a link between obesity and an increased risk for cancer.

A complete report on Dr. Willet’s presentation has been provided by Zosia Chustecka on Medscape Hematology-Oncology.

With respect to prostate cancer, here are some of the highlights:

  • “People should stay as lean as they can, recognizing that it is more difficult for some than for others.”
  • So far, there have been no specific foodstuffs that have been identified as having proven anticancer effects.
  • “… the message to eat fruits and vegetables is still a good message, but there appears to be more benefit for cardiovascular disease than for cancer.”
  • Maybe the only foodstuff that does have some evidence suggesting a preventive anticancer effect is soy products.  “But this is not yet in the category of convincing — it’s possible.”

Dr. Willet specifically criticized a number of the presentations made at the AACR meeting for making overly definitive claims about the impact of things like walnuts helping to reduce the impact of breast cancer, wine increasing survival among non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients, and eating charred meat increasing risk for pancreatic cancer.

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