The Fruit-Vegetable Cancer Link: Read All About It

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By now you’ve likely heard or read the news about a major new European study looking at whether fruits and vegetables lower cancer risk. Chances are, from the way the headlines are spinning it, you likely came away thinking that fruits and veggies don’t make a difference for cancer risk.

Wrong.

The study concluded there was a significantly lower risk of cancer with increased fruit and vegetable intake — but it was small. That makes sense, because the study looked at ALL cancers, not just those for which vegetable and fruit intake have been shown to be protective – many of which are less common.  

Here’s AICR’s ‘In the News’ take on the study.

The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute; you can read the abstract here.

To be clear: Eating lots fruits and vegetables is just as important as ever.  They help with weight control, are packed with healthy substances, probably lower the risk of several types of cancer, and add variety and flavor to healthy diets.

Plus, the cancer protection observed in the study is nothing to sneeze at:  Those who were eating the most fruits and vegetables in the study — 6 or more servings a day, the amount recommended for cancer protection — had about an 11 percent lower risk for ALL cancers than those who ate the least.

That’s for all cancers — but what happens when we look at those specific cancers which fruits and vegetables have been shown to offer protection against?  That’s where our policy report, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention, comes in.  In an appendix to that report, a team of experts estimated the percentage of specific cancers that could be prevented by a host of different factors.

When it comes to fruits and vegetable intake, the experts estimated that if we were all to follow AICR’s recommendation to eat 5-10 servings of non-starchy vegetables (that means not potatoes and corn) and fruits per day, we would prevent large numbers of the following cancers:

Cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx
34 percent of these cancers could be prevented by eating the recommended amount of non-starchy vegetables
23 percent of these cancers could be prevented by eating the recommended amount of fruit

Stomach Cancer
21 percent of stomach cancers could be prevented by eating the recommended amount of non-starchy vegetables
21 percent of stomach cancers could be prevented by eating the recommended amount of fruit

Esophageal Cancer
20 percent of esophageal cancers could be prevented by eating the recommended amount of non-starchy vegetables
11 percent of esophageal cancers could be prevented by eating the recommended amount of fruits

Lung Cancer
36 percent of lung cancer cases (among non-smokers) could be prevented by eating the recommended amount of fruits

And remember the big picture — combining a diet high in plant foods and low in meat with regular physical activity and a healthy weight could prevent about 1/3 of the of the most common cancers.

What do you think about the study — or the news about the study?

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Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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