Dairy and cancer: the link between diet and disease | Viva!

Dairy and cancer: the link between diet and disease

More than one in three people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime (NHS Choices, 2012) and these cancers are responsible for one in four of all deaths in the UK. There is a very direct link between diet and disease.

Diet is crucial in cancer, because:

1. A ‘Western diet’ can directly cause certain cancers.

A typical ‘Western diet’, rich in meat and dairy foods, promotes cancer. Just four types – lung, bowel, breast and prostate – account for almost half of all cancer deaths in the UK. The World Cancer Research Fund say that 30-40 per cent of cancers are attributable to lifestyle factors, including a bad diet (WCRF et al, 2007). For some cancers – breast, bowel and prostate – the harmful effects of a poor diet may be considerably higher (Willett, 2000).

2. But no matter what the initial cause of cancer, our diet can help turn the damaged cells on or off.

The China Study clearly illustrates this. Liver cancer rates are very high in rural China, the primary culprit being the hepatitis B virus (HBV). But not everyone infected with the virus develops cancer and Professor Campbell gives diet as the main reason. People on high animal protein and animal fat diets, which triggered high cholesterol levels, had highly significantly increased levels of liver cancer (Campbell et al, 2005). This accords with decades of work showing how animal protein is a friend of cancer progression. It's no secret that diet and disease are inextricably linked. The nutritional effects on the cancers I’ve chosen to tell you about are virtually the same for all other cancers. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. One in eight women will develop it at some point in their lives. In the UK, in 2010, more than 49,500 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and rates have increased by a startling 70 per cent since the mid-1970s. Breast cancer rates, however, vary widely between countries, with richer nations suffering more than poorer ones. Compared to Northern Europeans, Jamaican and Puerto Rican women are almost half as likely to get breast cancer while in rural China, women are six times less likely to develop it.