Nature, Nurture, and Cancer Risks: Genetic and Nutritional Contributions to Cancer

Annu Rev Nutr. 2017 Aug 21;37:293-320. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-071715-051004.


It is speculated that genetic variants are associated with differential responses to nutrients (known as gene-diet interactions) and that these variations may be linked to different cancer risks. In this review, we critically evaluate the evidence across 314 meta-analyses of observational studies and randomized controlled trials of dietary risk factors and the five most common cancers (breast, lung, prostate, colorectal, and stomach). We also critically evaluate the evidence across 13 meta-analyses of observational studies of gene-diet interactions for the same cancers. Convincing evidence for association was found only for the intake of alcohol and whole grains in relation to colorectal cancer risk. Three nutrient associations had highly suggestive evidence and another 15 associations had suggestive evidence. Among the examined gene-diet interactions, only one had moderately strong evidence.

Keywords: breast cancer; cancer; colorectal cancer; diet; genes; interaction; lung cancer; nutrigenetics; prostate cancer; stomach cancer.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diet
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Risk Factors


  • Ethanol