There are basically 3 types of blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
- Leukemia involves propagation of mutant white blood cells in the bone marrow. Normal white blood cells fight infection but leukemia cells lose this function. Furthermore, they crowd out normal red and other types of white blood cells in the bone marrow. Around 52 thousand cases of leukemia occur in the U.S. annually, and 24 thousand people die from it.
- Lymphoma involves mutation and propagation of another type of white blood cell—lymphocytes. The most common type is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, of which there are 70 thousand cases diagnosed in the U.S. every year, with about 19 thousand deaths.
- Myeloma involves plasma cells—white blood cells that produce antibodies. Some 24 thousand Americans are diagnosed with myeloma every year, resulting in 11 thousand deaths.
Treatment of blood cancers has variable results, with the greatest success being childhood leukemia, which now has a 90 percent ten-year survival rate. As with other diseases, prevention is best. In his book “How Not to Die,” Dr. Michael Greger reviews foods associated with decreased blood cancer risk. As discussed in the last several columns, what we eat don’t eat can lower the risk of many types of cancer. Dr. Greger says that studies have shown that “the greatest protection appeared to be against blood cancers.”
- Sulforaphane* is a strong cancer-fighting micronutrient present in cruciferous vegetables—arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens, and watercress. Sulforaphane kills human leukemia cells in the lab, and studies have shown that high daily dietary cruciferous intake decreases the risk of lymphoma.
- In a Mayo Clinic study, people who ate 5 or more servings of green, leafy vegetables a week had a 50 percent lower incidence of lymphoma compared with those eating less than 1 serving a week.
- There is preliminary evidence that turmeric can slow or stop pre-myeloma changes in humans.
- Acai berries have been shown in the lab to be effective against leukemia cells, although studies proving that they prevent leukemia in living humans have not been done yet. Of course, Big Food jumped on the favorable lab evidence—beware of “superfood” supplements and shakes, which have not been proven to have any benefit.
Dr. Greger also cites certain foods that increase the risk of blood cancers:
- People who grow up on poultry farms and workers in the poultry industry are at higher risk for blood cancers. Eating poultry regularly also increases risk. The cause is thought to be certain viruses that cause cancer in poultry and probably in humans (we don’t know for sure yet).
- Exposure to cattle and pigs has been associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and eating them may prove to increase risk of lymphoma although again, we don’t know for sure yet.
*In order for sulforaphane to be released from cruciferous vegetables, an enzyme called mycrosinase is necessary, and this enzyme is inactivated by cooking. One strategy you can use is to eat some raw cruciferous veggies, such as cauliflower or broccoli, before you eat cooked cruciferous veggies—that way microsinase is available to release the sulforaphanes in the cooked veggies. A second strategy is to chop or blend cruciferous veggies at least 40 minutes before you cook them, which allows mycrosinase to do its job. A third strategy is to add mustard or horseradish to cooked cruciferous veggies (mustard greens and seeds, and horseradish, come from cruciferous vegetables and contain mycronase). Frozen cruciferous vegetables are flash-heated prior to freezing, to prolong shelf life—so frozen cruciferous vegetables need to be considered “cooked.”