Reduce cancer risk with healthy lifestyle choices

by Paul Reilly, ND

This article was originally published in April 2004

(April 2004) — Despite frequent reports touting the latest “amazing breakthrough” in cancer therapy, the reality is that the best “treatment” for cancer is prevention. Making wise choices in diet and lifestyle can dramatically reduce your risk of cancer.

Paul Reilly, ND

Recent research has proven that the daily choices we make can increase the odds of living a long healthy life, even if our family history suggests an increased cancer risk. In one study, more than 44,000 pairs of twins were studied to measure the effects of genetics versus lifestyle factors on cancer risk. For the 11 common cancers studied, lifestyle was a stronger risk for cancer than genes, contributing between 65 to nearly 100 percent of overall risk.

So, if we know that healthy choices can impact risk, what choices should we make?


Eat five to 10 servings daily of fruits and vegetables. This may be the most important change you can make. The colors in food come from protective phytochemicals like bioflavonoids and carotenoids. So eat something yellow, red, green, orange, purple or blue daily. Another way to think of this is to be sure that half your plate at each meal consists of salads, vegetables and fruits.

Reduce consumption of refined grains and sugars. Cancer cells thrive in a high sugar, high insulin environment. Studies show such diets increase risk of almost every type of cancer. Sugar and refined carbohydrates increase insulin levels in the blood which can also increase cancer risk. So eat fewer simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice, sugars and candies, and eat moderate amounts of complex carbs like beans, whole grains and 100 percent whole-grain breads and pasta.

Eat more wild-caught fish and beneficial fats. The omega-3 fats found in fish reduce cancer risk. Pacific salmon is an excellent choice because it is high in desirable fats and low in heavy metals and pesticides. Avoid or minimize farmed salmon which tends to be higher in antibiotics, hormones and dioxins. Other coldwater fish such as halibut and sardines also are desirable. Other beneficial fats include olive oil, avocado oil and oils from nuts and flax seeds.

Reduce consumption of red meat and animal fats. Fats from red meats and cheeses increase growth of tumors. Charred meats add another risk factor. Processed meats such as hot dogs with nitrates and nitrites are especially dangerous for children. When you want red meat, choose grass-fed buffalo, range-grazed beef without antibiotics or added growth hormones or wild game. For poultry, select free-range hormone-free varieties.*

Avoid high-calorie, highly processed junk foods. Empty calories contribute to obesity, a known risk factor for cancer. Junk food also is generally loaded with artificial colorings, flavorings and hydrogenated fats. Fruits, nuts or seeds are better choices for snacks.

Drink plenty of water and green tea.

Water is essential to help flush waste products out of the cells. Drink one ounce of water for every two pounds body weight daily. Green tea is loaded with antioxidants and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Regular consumption reduces cancer risk and, if cancer does occur, green tea slows tumor growth and can even enhance response to therapies.


Minimize exposure to pesticides and chemicals. Certain cancers like lymphomas and possibly breast cancer are linked to increased exposure to these compounds. Organic fruits and vegetables limit exposure while providing more trace minerals and vitamins than “factory-farmed” produce.

Reduce alcohol consumption. Excessive alcohol increases risk for many cancers, especially breast cancer. Limit consumption to one or two drinks daily, less if at high risk for breast cancer. Red wine seems to be the most healthful alcoholic beverage.

Don’t smoke. Smoking not only increases risk of developing numerous cancers, it recently has been shown to increase the aggressiveness of existing cancers by promoting development of new blood supplies necessary for rapid tumor growth. Exercise regularly. Physical activity reduces risk of most cancers, possibly because it reduces obesity and insulin levels.

Have fun and limit stress. Our immune systems are affected by what we think and feel. Stressed-out people tend to have less efficient immune defenses against cancer. Take time to play. Consider a meditation or relaxation class. Set priorities and learn when to say no.

It isn’t necessary to have a perfect diet to derive cancer-preventing benefits. Choose healthy foods 90 percent of the time and you will still benefit without feeling deprived. Even small changes improve your health and resistance to illness. Focus on including more healthy choices as much as avoiding the bad.

Making wise choices not only will reduce your cancer risk, it will improve your overall health. And, the increased sense of energy and well-being that comes from a healthy diet and lifestyle become an equally great reward.

Dr. Reilly practices at the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center. He may be contacted at 206-292-2277. Reilly also is co-author of “How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine,” available at PCC.

* PCC offers range-grazed buffalo and venison in the frozen section. At the end of April, we’ll also have fresh ground buffalo. All of PCC’s meats — buffalo, venison, beef, poultry, pork and lamb — are free of added growth hormones and antibiotics and the animal feed never contains animal by-products. PCC hot dogs and processed meats contain no nitrites or nitrates.

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