When it comes to cancer, including the right foods and supplements in the anti-cancer diet that can support the ongoing cancer treatment to fight and kill cancer becomes crucial. The patients should also stay away from those foods and supplements which can cause adverse effects or worsen the treatment and therapy induced side-effects. A healthy lifestyle by including the right foods as part of the cancer patients’ diet and doing regular exercises should help support the cancer treatment.
What is Cancer?
Cancer refers to a condition when normal cells get mutated resulting in an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells. Cancer cells can spread to different parts of the body and invade other tissues – a process called metastasis. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, different cancer treatments are prescribed to different patients in order to remove or kill the cancer or slow down its growth.
Despite all the medical advancements and improvement in the number of cancer survivors over the last few decades, the side-effects of anti-cancer therapies remain as a major concern for both patients and clinicians. These side-effects can greatly impact the quality of life of the patient. Hence cancer patients and their family often lookout for alternative solutions including natural remedies to alleviate the treatment side effects.
Need For Anti-Cancer Diets/Foods/Supplements
After being diagnosed with cancer, the patients often tend to choose natural remedies to improve their quality of life which is impacted by their ongoing cancer treatments. They often start using dietary supplements randomly, along with their chemotherapy treatments, so as to help reduce the side-effects and improve their quality of life. Different reports suggest that 67-87% of cancer patients use dietary supplements post diagnosis.
However, when it comes to cancer, it is important to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle with the right exercises and diets/nutrition including the right foods and supplements. Taking any food or supplement for cancer without scientific basis may not help, and in fact, may increase the risk of serious adverse effects by interfering with the ongoing cancer treatment. Identifying the right anti-cancer diets, foods and supplements that can fight and kill cancer and staying away from those which can cause or worsen the cancer or treatment side-effects becomes crucial.
Anti-Cancer foods and diets may help the cancer patients to fight cancer by either:
- improving the response/outcomes of the ongoing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy/radiotherapy or
- alleviating the side-effects of cancer treatments
As cancer characteristics and treatments vary for each patient based on their subtype and stage of the cancer, the foods and supplements to be included as part of the anti-cancer nutrition/diet for the patient cannot be “one size fits all”. Apart from the benefits mentioned before, personalized anti-cancer diets/foods will also help the patients improve their immunity and rule out those foods and supplements which can adversely interfere with their ongoing treatments.
Cancer Fighting Diets/Foods that improves Efficacy of Ongoing Treatments
There are many foods/diets that are associated with improving the treatment outcomes in cancer patients. Many experimental studies and meta-analysis of multiple prospective studies also show evidence of foods and supplements that can improve the outcomes of specific therapies in specific cancers. Some of the studies showing beneficial effects of different cancer fighting foods on specific chemo and cancer types are summarized below:
Curcumin may improve FOLFOX Chemotherapy response to fight/kill Colorectal Cancer
Curcumin is a natural product extracted from the commonly used spice Turmeric which has been investigated extensively for its anticancer properties. In a recent phase II clinical trial done in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, the researchers compared the overall survival of patients receiving the combination chemotherapy called FOLFOX (folinic acid/5-FU/OXA) with the group receiving FOLFOX along with 2 grams of oral curcumin/day (CUFOX). Addition of Curcumin to FOLFOX was found to be safe and tolerable for colorectal cancer patients and did not exacerbate the side-effects of the chemo. The Group which received Curcumin had a much better survival outcome with progression free survival being 120 days longer than FOLFOX group and overall survival being more than doubled in CUFOX with 502 days vs. only 200 days in the FOLFOX group (NCT01490996, Howells LM et al, J Nutr, 2019).
Curcumin with its multiple actions and targets may help reduce the resistance mechanisms of FOLFOX, thus improving the odds of survival for the cancer patient, without further adding to the toxicity burden. Including Curcumin as part of the anti-cancer diets/foods for Colorectal cancer patients receiving FOLFOX chemotherapy may help fight/kill the cancer by improving the treatment response.
Vitamin C may improve Hypomethylating agent response to fight/kill Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Hypomethylating agents (HMA) are used for the treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Hypomethylating agents (HMA) inhibit the methylation switch to enable the re-activation of the tumor suppressor genes to control leukemia. A recent study done in China, tested the impact of taking Vitamin C along with a specific HMA in elderly AML patients by comparing the results from a group that only took HMA and another group that took HMA and Vitamin C. The results showed that Vitamin C had a synergistic effect with the specific HMA as the patients who took the combination therapy had a higher complete remission rate of 79.92 % versus the 44.11 % in those who were not given Vitamin C supplementation (Zhao H et al, Leuk Res. 2018).
While Vitamin C is consumed generally as part of a balanced diet, this study suggested that including Vitamin C as part of the anti-cancer diets/foods for AML patients receiving hypomethylating agents may help fight/kill the cancer by improving the treatment response.
Vitamin E may improve Response of a specific Targeted Therapy drug to fight/kill Ovarian Cancer
One of the most common targeted therapies used for ovarian cancer works by blocking a protein known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Cancer cells have increased levels of VEGF and blocking this protein helps prevent the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) which are vital for the transport of the nutrients to cancer tumors.
While the standard of care anti-VEGF targeted therapy along with chemotherapy is approved for ovarian cancer treatment, a recent study done by researchers from a hospital in Denmark evaluated the effectiveness of a supplement that can synergize with this targeted therapy and improve the odds of survival of ovarian cancer patients. Delta-tocotrienols are a specific group of chemicals found in Vitamin E. Vitamin E is made up of two groups of chemicals, namely tocopherols and tocotrienols. The Department of Oncology in Vejle Hospital, Denmark, studied the effect of the tocotrienol subgroup of vitamin E along with the anti-VEGF targeted therapy in ovarian cancer. The combination of Vitamin E/tocotrienol and the specific targeted therapy almost doubled the survival rate, maintaining the rate of disease stabilization at 70% with minimal toxicity (Thomsen CB et al, PharmacolRes. 2019).
Findings from this study indicated that including Vitamin E as part of the anti-cancer diets/foods for Ovarian Cancer patients receiving the standard of care anti-VEGF targeted therapy may help fight/kill the cancer by improving the treatment response.
Genistein may improve FOLFOX Chemotherapy response to Fight/Kill Metastatic Colorectal Cancer
Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, investigated the safety and efficacy of using Genistein along with a standard of care combination chemotherapy in a prospective clinical study in metastatic Colorectal Cancer patients (mCRC). (NCT01985763; Pintova S et al, Cancer Chemotherapy & Pharmacol., 2019)
The study included 13 patients who were treated either with a combination of FOLFOX chemotherapy and Genistein, or FOLFOX chemotherapy plus anti-VEGF targeted therapy along with Genistein or FOLFOX chemotherapy alone. They found that there was an improvement in best overall response (BOR) in the mCRC patients who took chemotherapy along with Genistein, when compared to those reported for the chemotherapy treatment alone in earlier studies. BOR was 61.5% in this study vs. 38-49% in previous studies with the same chemotherapy treatments. (Saltz LB et al, J Clin Oncol, 2008)
The progression free survival, that indicates the amount of time that the tumor has not progressed with the treatment, was a median of 11.5 months with Genistein combination vs. 8 months for chemotherapy alone based on a prior study. (Saltz LB et al, J Clin Oncol., 2008)
Findings from this study indicated that including Genistein as part of the anti-cancer diets/foods for metastatic Colorectal Cancer patients receiving FOLFOX or FOLFOX plus anti-VEGF targeted therapy may help fight the cancer by improving the treatment response.
In summary, the above studies suggest that right foods or supplements included as part of the cancer diet/foods at right quantities should help the specific chemotherapy to fight/kill a particular cancer.
Cancer Fighting Diets/Foods that alleviates the Side-effects of Ongoing Treatments
Including the right food and supplement as part of the anti-cancer diets/foods may also help in reducing the side effects of the ongoing treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This will help in improving the quality of life and general well-being of the cancer patient during their efforts to fight and kill cancer.
Different clinical studies and evidence which support the benefits of a specific food/supplement in alleviating a specific chemotherapy side-effect in a particular cancer type are summarized below.
EGCG reduces swallowing difficulties aiding patients to handle therapies to fight/kill Esophageal Cancer
A phase II clinical study was conducted by the researchers at Shandong Cancer Hospital and Institute in China to evaluate the impact of Green tea active Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) on esophagitis/swallowing difficulties. The study found that Green tea active EGCG supplementation may reduce swallowing difficulties/esophagitis without negatively impacting the efficacy of chemoradiation or radiation therapy in esophageal cancer.(Xiaoling Li et al, Journal of Medicinal Food, 2019)
Findings from this study indicate that including EGCG as part of the anti-cancer diet/food may alleviate esophagitis/swallowing difficulties and help patients to handle the radiation treatments to fight/kill Esophageal Cancer.
Royal Jelly reduces Oral Mucositis aiding patients to handle therapies to fight/kill Head and Neck Cancer
A randomized single blind study carried out on head and neck cancer patients showed that compared to the control group, approximately 30% of the patients did not experience grade 3 oral mucositis (mouth sores) when supplemented with royal jelly. (Miyata Y et al, Int J Mol Sci. 2018).
Findings from this study indicate that including royal jelly as part of the anti-cancer diet/food may alleviate oral mucositis/mouth sores and help patients to handle their cancer treatments to fight/kill Head and Neck Cancer.
Lycopene reduces specific chemo induced Kidney Injury aiding patients to handle the therapy to fight/kill Cancer
A study conducted by researchers from the Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences in Iran found that lycopene can be effective in decreasing the complications due to specific chemo-induced nephrotoxicity (kidney problems) by affecting some markers of renal function. (Mahmoodnia L et al, J Nephropathol. 2017)
Findings from this study indicate that including lycopene as part of the anti-cancer diet/food may alleviate specific chemotherapy induced nephrotoxicity/kidney injury and help patients to handle the treatment to fight/kill Cancer.
Silymarin reduces specific chemo induced Cardiotoxicity aiding patients to handle therapy to fight/kill ALL
A clinical study from the Tanta University in Egypt highlighted that use of Milk Thistle active Silymarin along with DOX chemotherapy benefits children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) by reducing the chemo-induced cardiotoxicity. (Hagag AA et al, Infect Disord Drug Targets. 2019)
Findings from this study indicate that including Milk thistle active Silymarin as part of the anti-cancer diet/food may alleviate DOX chemotherapy induced cardiotoxicity/heart problems and help cancer patients to handle the treatment to fight/kill Acute Lymphoid Leukemia (ALL).
Thymoquinone reduces Neutropenia aiding patients to handle therapy to fight/kill Brain Cancer
A study done at the Alexandria University in Egypt showed that taking black seeds rich in Thymoquinone along with chemotherapy may decrease the incidence of febrile neutropenia (low white blood cells) in children with brain tumors. (Mousa HFM et al, Child’s Nervous Syst., 2017)
Findings from this study indicate that including black seeds rich in Thymoquinone as part of the anti-cancer diet/food may alleviate febrile neutropenia (low white blood cells) and help patients to handle the treatment to fight/kill Brain Cancer.
Folic Acid reduces Hematological toxicity aiding patients to handle PEM+CIS therapy to fight/kill Lung Cancer
A recent study involving retrospective analysis of NSCLC/lung cancer patients who were treated with first-line Pem/Cis chemotherapy found that folic acid supplementation lowered the levels of plasma homocysteine, a marker for hematological toxicity, without impacting the efficacy of the chemotherapy (Singh N et al, Am J. Clin Oncol, 2017).
Findings from this study indicate that including Folic Acid as part of the anti-cancer diet/food may alleviate hematological toxicity and help patients to handle the PEM chemo treatment to fight/kill Lung Cancer.
Different studies support the fact that taking the right foods and supplements can help cancer patients. A healthy diet with foods including fruits and vegetables which can fight specific cancers and improve treatment responses or alleviate treatment side-effects is crucial in the cancer patients’ journey to fight/kill cancer. Natural remedies including foods and supplements may not necessarily kill the cancer but when chosen scientifically, it can support the prescribed cancer treatments targeted for killing the cancer. Also, including high amounts of a variety of dietary supplements may not be always safe and beneficial, but taking their corresponding food sources as part of the diet will be more safe and healthy for the cancer patient. Before taking a supplement or making any changes to the diet, cancer patients should always consult their health care providers or nutritionists to avoid any complications.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer.Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.