Changes in diet are frequently correlated with the occurrence and progression of malignant tumors (i.e., cancer) in both humans and other animals, but an integrated conceptual framework to interpret these changes still needs to be developed. Our aim is to provide a new perspective on dietary changes in tumor-bearing individuals by adapting concepts from parasitology. Dietary changes may occur alongside tumor progression for several reasons: (i) as a pathological side effect with no adaptive value, (ii) as the result of self-medication by the host to eradicate the tumor and/or to slow down its progression, (iii) as a result of host manipulation by the tumor that benefits its progression, and finally (iv) as a host tolerance strategy, to alleviate and repair damages caused by tumor progression. Surprisingly, this tolerance strategy can be beneficial for the host even if diet changes are beneficial to tumor progression, provided that cancer-induced death occurs sufficiently late (i.e., when natural selection is weak). We argue that more data and a unifying evolutionary framework, especially during the early stages of tumorigenesis, are needed to understand the links between changes in diet and tumor progression. We argue that a focus on dietary changes accompanying tumor progression can offer novel preventive and therapeutic strategies against cancer.
Keywords: malignant cells; manipulation; nutrition, self‐medication; resistance, tolerance.