Diet and cancer: risk factors and epidemiological evidence

Maturitas. 2014 Mar;77(3):202-8. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2013.11.010. Epub 2013 Dec 11.


Background: Diet represents 30-35% of risk factors that contribute to the onset of cancer. Some foods and dietary patterns have been linked to the risk of various cancers. However epidemiological available data are not consistent for many foods and the associations with cancer risk remain unclear. The concerns about this issue are considered like a "Hot topic" for oncologists and general population.

Objective: The aim of this report is to present a review of the published epidemiologic research to date reflecting the most current scientific evidence related to diet and cancer risk.

Design: EMBASE and PubMed-NCBI were searched for relevant articles up to October 2013 that identified potentials interactions between foods or dietary patterns with cancer risk.

Results: There is no conclusive evidence as an independent risk factor for isolated nutrients versus adoption of dietary patterns for cancer risk. Moderate physical activity after breast cancer diagnosis contributes to 40% reduction of recurrence/disease-specific mortality. Cancer colon risk derived from meat intake is influenced by both total intake and its frequency. The interaction of phenolic compounds on metabolic and signaling pathways like P450, MAP kinase, PI3 kinase, IGF-1, NF-kB and ROS seems to exert an inhibitory effect on cell proliferation and tumor metastasis and induces apoptosis in various types of cancer cells, including colon, lung, prostate, hepatocellular or breast cancer.

Conclusions: There is a direct relationship between unhealthy diet and lifestyle with the increase of tumor development and cancer risk. For this reason, a good nutritional status based on a balanced diet constitutes one of the main preventive factors from tumors. However the mixed results from epidemiologic studies hinder to get unequivocal and consistent evidence about the interaction between diet and cancer risk. More epidemiological studies will be needed in the future to clarify this issue.

Keywords: Cancer; Diet; Epidemiology; Lifestyle; Risk factors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Meat / adverse effects
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Phenols / pharmacology
  • Phenols / therapeutic use
  • Risk Factors


  • Phenols