Food – Can It Really Prevent Cancer?

Food is a major and underused anticancer weapon, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer. In collaboration with the Institute of Food Research, the Group is calling for diet to be better deployed in reducing cancer risk in the UK.

“With dietary interventions, we have the potential to prevent around a third of all cancers”, according to Dr Ian Gibson MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer. “In the long term, we could also save some of the £2.4-3.5 billion annual cost to the NHS of cancer”, he adds.

Seventy percent of cancer treatment money is spent during the terminal stages, while less than ten percent of total cancer research funding is focused on prevention. This is at odds with the overwhelming epidemiological evidence that many cancers are preventable.

“The biological mechanisms of cancer prevention through diet can be discovered and exploited in the same way as new curative drugs”, says Professor Ian Johnson of the Institute of Food Research. “Scientific advances should be as vigorously applied to prevention strategies as they are to drug development”, he says.

This needs to be accompanied by an investment in public awareness of the links between food and cancer prevention. Research has shown that they are often poorly understood. For example, an IFR study of beliefs amongst low-income women found that foods were not generally linked to cancer prevention. What connections were made between food and cancer revolved around beliefs that food processing might cause cancer. However, “the strongest association between diet and cancer in the western world is the protective effect of a high intake of fruit and vegetables”, says Professor Johnson.

“In the next Cancer Plan, let’s try to get it right for the sake of the economy, the long term future of the NHS, and the health of the next generation”, says Dr Ian Gibson MP.

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