Impact of dietary patterns and the main food groups on mortality and recurrence in cancer survivors: a systematic review of current epidemiological literature

BMJ Open. 2018 Feb 19;8(2):e014530. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014530.


Objective: To determine whether there is an association between dietary patterns/indices and foods from the main food groups (highest vs lowest intakes) prior to or after cancer diagnosis and mortality and cancer recurrence in cancer survivors.

Participants: Survivors of common cancers with a 10-year survival rate of ≥50%: bladder, bowel, breast, cervical, kidney, laryngeal, prostate, testicular, uterine cancer, malignant melanoma and (non-)Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Outcome measures: Mortality (overall, cancer-specific, from other causes) and cancer recurrence.

Information sources: PubMed, Embase and the Cochrane Library were searched from inception to April 2017. Additional studies were identified by searching reference lists. Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts, assessed study quality and extracted the data.

Results: A total of 38 studies were included. The risk of bias was rated low for the included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and moderate for the cohort studies. The quality of evidence was assessed with the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations (GRADE) approach and was rated moderate (RCTs), and (very)low (cohort studies). Reducing the amount of fat after diagnosis appears to decrease the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Adherence to a high-quality diet and prudent diet after diagnosis appears to decrease the risk of death from other causes (and overall mortality for high-quality diet) in breast cancer survivors. Adherence to a Western diet, before and after diagnosis, appears to increase the risk of overall mortality and death from other causes among breast cancer survivors. Evidence from studies among other cancer survivors was too limited or could not be identified.

Conclusion: For many cancer survivors, there is little evidence to date to indicate that particular dietary behaviours influence outcomes with regard to recurrence and mortality. Notwithstanding, limited evidence suggests that a low-fat diet, a high-quality diet and a prudent diet are beneficial for breast cancer survivors, while a Western diet is detrimental for breast cancer survivors.

Keywords: cancer recurrence; cancer survivors; diet; dietary pattern; food; mortality.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Cancer Survivors
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted*
  • Diet, Western / adverse effects*
  • Energy Intake
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / mortality*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Survival Rate
  • Time Factors