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.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, after skin cancer. Every year about 230,000 women in this country are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,000 die from it. Mammograms and self-breast exams supposedly lead to early detection, but in reality, this is “late detection” because breast cancer has been present for years—up to 4 decades– by the time it is diagnosed. Some of the 2-billion cells in our bodies are always mutating. We evolved to eat plants, and plants contain micro-nutrients that destroy these mutant cells before they propagate– animal products lack this ability.
Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. is one of the two doctors (Dr. Ornish was the other) who proved that plant-based, whole food nutrition with no salt, sugar or added oil reverses heart disease. Dr. Esselstyn, now in his 80s, started out as a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic decades ago. He was operating on young women who presented with breast cancer, and the treatment back then was radical mastectomy—a very disfiguring operation. Dr. Esselstyn started looking for a way to prevent breast cancer and found out that populations who ate a plant-based diet had an extremely low rate of breast cancer.
If you are a woman and want to do everything you can to prevent breast cancer, read the chapter on breast cancer in Dr. Greger’s book “How Not to Die,” and search breast cancer on his website NutritionFacts.org. If you are a breast cancer survivor, read “The Cancer Survivor’s Guide, Foods That Help You Fight Back!” by Neal Barnard, M.D. Following are some of the points made in these two books:
- In 2014 the World Health Organization upgraded its classification of alcohol to “a definitive human breast carcinogen.” The culprit is acetaldehyde, a toxic breakdown product of alcohol. Dr. Greger notes that the skin of grapes used to make red wine contains a compound that “may help cancel out some of the cancer-causing effects of the alcohol.”
- Melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” appears to have a protective effect against breast cancer. Melatonin levels are lowered by bright lights including computer and TV screens during pre-bedtime hours and by eating meat (for unknown reasons). Eating vegetables raises melatonin levels (again, for unknown reasons).
- Excess estrogen increases breast cancer risk, and women need to be hesitant about taking post-menopausal hormones (“bio-identical hormones” have not been proven to be any safer). Body fat produces estrogen, and therefore people who are overweight are at increased risk for breast cancer.
- Diets high in saturated fat from added oil (coconut oil has the most), meat, dairy products and eggs increase breast cancer risk.
- Regular exercise such as brisk walking for an hour a day lowers the percentage of body fat, and for that and other reasons exercise lowers breast cancer risk.
- Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are carcinogens produced by cooking beef, pork and other meat—and fish and poultry– at high temperatures, such as roasting, pan frying, grilling and baking. According to Dr. Greger, PhIP, “one of the most abundant HCAs in cooked meat, was found to have potent estrogen-like effects, fueling human breast-cancer cell growth.”
- Lignans are phytoestrogens that “dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen” according to Dr. Greger. Lignans are particularly plentiful in flaxseeds, and are also found in berries, whole grains and dark, leafy greens. Flaxseed has even been shown to reduce breast cancer tumor growth. Antibiotics kill health-promoting gut bacteria which are important in activating lignans.
- According to Dr. Greger, some studies have shown a link between high cholesterol levels and breast cancer risk, thought to be due to our bodies “using cholesterol to make estrogen or to shore up tumor membranes to help the cancer migrate and invade more tissue.” Using statins to lower cholesterol does not decrease breast cancer risk.
- Fiber, which is found only in plant foods, helps remove estrogen via the GI tract and lowers breast cancer risk. For every 20 grams of fiber intake per day, there was a 15 percent lower risk of breast cancer in several studies.
- Apple peels contain a compound that activates a breast tumor-suppressor gene.
- Cancerous stem cells may be why breast cancer can sometimes recur years after apparently successful treatment. Sulforaphane, a component of cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower), “suppresses the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumors” according to Dr. Greger. Cooking destroys the enzyme that activates sulforaphane so some cruciferous vegetables should be eaten raw (or eat some raw ones before eating cooked cruciferous vegetables).
- Soybeans contain weak phytoestrogens (phyto = plant) called isoflavones, which attach to estrogen receptors in breast tissue, preventing stronger estrogens from attaching, thereby lowering breast cancer risk. It is thought that high soy intake is why the incidence of breast cancer is low in Asian women. If you are a breast cancer survivor, you should know that according to Dr. Greger, “women diagnosed with breast cancer who ate the most soy lived significantly longer and had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer recurrence.”
At its annual meeting on June 14, 2017, the American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates, which represents more than 200,000 physician members, issued a policy statement that called for the reduction of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meats, and an increase in the availability of healthful, plant-based foods in hospitals.
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Certainly this is not enough, but a great start!
All cancers create fear but not all cancers create dialogue. Colorectal cancer is particularly frightening for many reasons, making it vital that physicians and the media work together to raise public awareness around its prevalence, mortality and all effective interventions.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, with 1 in 20 developing it in his or her lifetime. The Society projects the disease will cause about 49,700 deaths during 2015.
A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine concluded that a vegetarian diet may reduce the risk for colorectal cancer. Researchers assessed the diets of 77,659 participants in the Adventist Health Study 2 for about seven years and tracked incidence of colorectal cancers. Participants followed five dietary patterns including vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescovegetarian, semivegetarian, and nonvegetarian.
The combined vegetarian groups had a 22 percent lower risk for all types of colorectal cancers than the nonvegetarian group. This study supports previous research linking red and processed meats to colorectal and other cancers.