The diagnosis of cancer strikes fear in the
minds of millions of people worldwide every year.1 For many years
heart disease was labeled as the number one killer in the United States, but
recently that has changed. In January 2005, cancer surpassed heart disease as
the number one killer of Americans under 85 years.2 Globally the
World Health Organization projects that global cancer rates could increase by
50 percent by 2020.3 Thus there is good reason to be concerned.
However, research also shows that we can do something to significantly reduce
our risk of having cancer.
Globally, tobacco usage was the cause of the
death of millions during the last century. Half of those who regularly smoke
are killed by tobacco related diseases (cancer, lung disease, and heart
disease), and one quarter die prematurely. Lung cancer in regular tobacco users
is drastically higher (20 to 30 fold), and cancers of the oral cavity,
esophagus, and upper digestive tract are significantly higher (2 to 6 fold).
Even passive or secondary tobacco smoke increases lung cancer risk by 20
percent. Thus tobacco is a very dangerous, but avoidable, cancer risk. Of
course, it is best to never start smoking; however, there is clear evidence
that stopping smoking significantly reduces the chance of getting cancer. The
greatest reduction is seen when a person stops smoking in their early 30s, but
significant risk reduction is seen when a person stops smoking even after age
Diet is also a significant risk factor. Many
studies have been conducted showing that the kind of diet we eat has a
significant impact upon our cancer risk. We shall look at some of these
In one study of 190,545 participants who were
followed for seven years, researchers found that those who regularly ate red
meat (beef, pork, lamb) had a 50 percent increase in pancreatic cancer risk (a
very serious form of cancer), and those who consumed processed meat (sausage,
salami, bologna) had a 70 percent increase.5
Another study looked at ovarian cancer. This
Canadian study followed 2,500 women, and researchers found that those with the
highest cholesterol consumption had a 40 percent increase in ovarian cancer
risk compared to those with the lowest cholesterol consumption. Even those with
the highest egg consumption had a 30 percent increase in risk. Cholesterol is
found only in animal products (meat, eggs, dairy including cheese, etc.) and
not in plant foods. It is interesting that this same study showed that the
women with the highest consumption of total vegetable intake, including
cruciferous vegetables (kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, turnips,
radishes, rutabaga, cabbage, bok choy,
cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, watercress, kohlrabi), had a reduced
cancer risk by almost 25 percent.6
A large study following 148,610 people for
over 20 years showed that those with the highest meat intake had approximately
a 50 percent higher colon cancer risk compared with those with lower intakes.
The researchers concluded that the less red and processed meat people eat, the lower was their risk of colon cancer.7
A review of 21 studies showed a relationship
between dairy product consumption (skim milk, low-fat milk, whole milk, yogurt,
cheese) and ovarian cancer risk. Study reviewers found that for every 10 grams
of lactose (about the amount in one glass of milk) consumed daily, ovarian
cancer risk increased by 13 percent.8 Thus a person consuming two
glasses of milk or equivalent will have an increased risk of 26 percent,
ingesting three glasses or equivalent will have an increased risk of 39
percent, and the risk continues to escalate as consumption increases.
A Canadian study compared data from men with
testicular cancer to healthy individuals. After examining nutrients, food
groups, and particular foods, researchers concluded that a high intake of dairy
products (particularly cheese), baked goods, and luncheon meats, could
contribute to this cancer.9
Harvard researchers analyzed 90,655
premenopausal women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study 11. They found that
animal fat intake, especially from red meat and high-fat dairy products during
premenopausal years increased the risk of breast cancer.10
One of the most prestigious studies on diet
and health is The China Study. It is widely considered the most comprehensive
study of diet, lifestyle and disease ever completed. It was headed by T. Colin
Campbell, and he makes this very interesting comment: “My fellow researchers
and I determined that plant-based diets are the main reason there are such low
rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in certain areas of rural China.
In contrast, even small amounts of animal protein-based foods [meat, fish,
poultry, milk and milk products, and eggs] increased the risk of many
Other studies also consistently show that
plant foods prevent or inhibit cancer; such as avocados inhibit prostate cancer,12 oranges and bananas may reduce childhood
leukemia,13 and fruits and vegetables lower pancreatic cancer risk.14
The message for reducing the risk of cancer seems to be the same over and over
and over again: eat little or no animal products and eat a plant based diet. In
other words, the less animal fat and protein you include in your diet, the less
your risk of cancer. You will notice that each of the studies cited above
looked at one kind of cancer. Researchers often limit a study to one particular
problem because of the very nature of study design. However, the fact that we
see the same message being repeated for so many different types of cancer, we
can logically conclude that the message will be the same for all types of
cancer: eat a plant-based diet and your risk of all types of cancer will
Another major determinant in whether or not
you will get cancer is the health and vitality of your immune system. Every day
our bodies produce about 300 abnormal cancerous cells,
and more if we are exposed to carcinogens. However, a healthy immune system
will quickly identify and kill these cancerous cells.15 The consumption of simple carbohydrates (sugar) distinctly
suppresses the immune system. Ingesting 100 grams (25 teaspoons) of sugar
(table sugar, sugar cane crystals, fructose, glucose, maltose, etc.) at one
meal or snack suppresses the immune system for the next five hours. Even the
consumption of 24 grams (6 teaspoons) reduces the body’s ability to destroy
In 2003, per capita sugar consumption in the
United States was 142 pounds,17 which
works out to about 43.5 teaspoons per day (142 lbs. per year x 16 oz. x 28
[ounce to gram conversion] / 365 days / 4 grams = # of teaspoons per day).18
Soda pops and many sweet desserts have 10 teaspoons of sugar, and many candy
bars, cookies, and donuts can have 6 or more teaspoons of sugar. Many fat-free
items have simply replaced the fat with sugar to maintain a taste that
Americans will buy. Also, sugar is added to many things to which you would not
think it would be added. Just look at the ingredient list of items you buy, and
notice if and how much sugar is added. Also, notice how near the top these
sugars are listed. Then look at the Nutrition Facts label and look for the
quantity of sugar in the item. Remember that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon
of sugar. If you see, say, 15 grams beside “Sugars,” that means there are
almost 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving in that item. If you start to look at
the Nutrition Facts labels of the things you consume, you may just be surprised
how much sugar you do eat on a daily basis. (Also, be aware that fruits and
vegetables often have naturally occurring “sugar,” which will be included in
the quantity of sugar given in the Nutrition Facts label. That is why it is
also good to look at the ingredient list to find out the source(s) of the sugar
and its relative amount to the other ingredients.)
The bottom line is that it is easy to see
that the vast majority of Americans have chronically suppressed immune systems
through excessive consumption of sugar. And the fact that many eat donuts for
breakfast, drink soda pop instead of water, have candy bars for snacks, and
love to have a nice dessert for dinner, the immune system is just not able to
function at a level to protect against the cancerous cells all of us develop in
our bodies every day. If these cancerous cells are not identified and killed by
the immune system, they are left to grow, and after a few years you are
diagnosed with a tumor or cancer.
Even though cancer is now the number one
killer of Americans under age 85, there are things that we can all do to
drastically reduce our risk of cancer. Eliminating tobacco usage by those who
smoke is a major step in cancer risk reduction. Moving from a diet containing
animal fat and protein to a plant-based diet is repeatedly shown to provide
major cancer risk reduction benefits. Finally, drastically reducing our intake
of sugar will help give our immune systems the ability and vitality necessary
to identify and kill the abnormal cells in our bodies and not allow them to
reproduce to form the basis of full-blown cancer. Certainly there are things
that we can do; therefore, let us do all that we can to reduce the risk of
cancer in our lives and in the lives of others.
1. World Health Organization. Global cancer
rates could increase by 50% to 15 million by 2020. Internet: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2003/pr27/en/.
Accessed Feb. 20, 2006. Also:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/01/20/health/main667998.shtml. Accessed Feb.
2. Good Medicine, Spring
2005, Vol. XIV, No. 2:16
3. WHO, Ibid.
5. Nothlings U, Wilkens LR, Murphy SP, Hankin JH,
Henderson BE, Kolonel LN. Meat and fat intake as risk
factors for pancreatic cancer: the multiethnic cohort study. J. Natl Cancer Inst. 2005;97:1458-65.
6. Pan SY, Ugnat AM, Mao Y, et al. A case-controlled study
of diet and the risk of ovarian cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers. 2004;13:1521-7.
7. Chao A, Thun
MJ, Connell CJ, et al. Meat consumption and risk of colorectal cancer. JAMA
8. Larsson SC, Orsini
N, Wolk A, Milk, milk products, and lactose intake
and ovarian cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies. Int. J.
Cancer. Internet: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/110575092/ABSTRACT.
Accessed Feb. 20, 2006.
9. Garner MJ, Birkett
NJ, Johnson KC, Shatenstein B, Ghadirian
P, Krewski D. Dietary risk factors for testicular
carcinoma. Int. J Cancer 2003;106:934-41.
10. Cho E, Spiegelman
D, Hunter DJ, et al. Premenopausal fat intake and the risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. (#5. last line) 2003;
11. Campbell TC, Campbell II TM. Lessons of a
Lifetime: Decades of Scientific Research Show the Power of a Plant-based Diet.
Good Medicine, Spring 2005, Vol. XIV, No. 2:8.
12. Lu QY, Arteaga
JR, Zhang Q, et al. Inhibition of prostate cancer cell growth by an avocado
extract: role of lipid-soluble
bioactive substances. J Nutr Biochem. 2005;16:23-13.
Kwan ML, Block G, Selvin S, et al. Food consumption
by children and the risk of childhood acute leukemia. Am J Epidemiol. 2004;160:1098-107.
14. Nkondjock A, Krewski D. Johnson KC, Chadirian
P. Dietary patterns and the risk of pancreatic cancer. Int
J Cancer. 2005;114:814-23.
J. Total Wellness.
Prima Publishing. 1996:24
16. Country Life Natural Foods. Nutrition Seminar Cookbook. Southern
Missionary Society, Harrisburg, NH. 1984:69-71.
17. US News. One Sweet
Accessed Feb. 20, 2006.
18. The Food Pyramid-Food Label Connection.
Internet: http://www.fda.gov/fdac/special/foodlabel/pyramid.html. Accessed Feb.
Diane Herbert, ND, is
leader of the Health and Temperance team at Tucker-Norcross Free Seventh-day
Adventist Church, and teaches health classes at The Gilead Institute, a medical