NFCR Writer Amy Yates, Author at NFCR

NFCR Writer Amy Yates

Eating for Cancer Prevention

We’ve all heard about the importance of healthy eating and living for longevity, but how influential is it for cancer, specifically? Are diet and lifestyle influential enough to significantly reduce cancer formation and progression?

The answer is “yes!”

Approximately 30-40% of cancer diagnoses could be prevented by modest diet and lifestyle changes. This number increases to 90% for certain cancers, like stomach cancer. In 2017 alone, 675,512 cancer diagnoses could have been avoided!  Healthy eating is important, especially as it related to cancer. And in recognition of National Nutrition Month, this National Foundation for Cancer Research blog post will offer a deeper look into the science of this important correlation. 

Carcinogens in Food

Nutrition interacts with cancer development in many important ways. The first is through the potential introduction of carcinogenic (cancer causing) materials into the body. If carcinogenic materials are introduced into the body, these will by definition increase cancer risk. These chemicals can be thought of as toxic; their very presence is inherently contradictory to health. But there are still multiple possibly carcinogenic materials which are not yet banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many of these are added chemicals or “additives” that are used to preserve food, alter the foods texture, or change the foods appearance.

A simple way to avoid these chemicals (without carrying around a big list) is to refrain from, or minimize, eating processed foods with ingredients that you don’t recognize or that you know aren’t whole-food based. Many times foods such as these are of low quality. They are generally low in healthy micronutrients and more refined, so the nutrients they do have are less bioavailable (nutrients aren’t able to be integrated into the body). They are also hyper-palatable so that the reward centers in the brain are extremely active during consumption, which leads to overindulgence.  Perhaps most importantly, these foods can be embedded with potentially toxic materials. Specific compounds to steer clear from are nitrates/nitrites, carrageenan, and BHA/BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole / butylated hydroxytoluene). These have all been shown to have carcinogenic properties.

Carcinogens in Digestion & Cooking

Some foods and drinks have materials in them that aren’t carcinogenic themselves but can produce carcinogenic materials during their cooking process, breakdown or detoxification. In other words, as the body processes these materials or as they’re prepared, intermediate materials are produced which are carcinogenic.

Alcohol is one such substance that can have a carcinogenic effect on the body.  Alcohol is broken down in the liver to produce a metabolite called acetaldehyde, which is considered a definite carcinogen.  Acetaldehyde is genotoxic, which means that it damages the genetic material of the cell, increasing the likelihood of mutations.

The second common potentially carcinogenic food is red meat. While there is interest in looking at the inherent carcinogenic qualities of red meat, research is not yet conclusive on this matter. For this reason, red meat is currently classified as a probable carcinogen. However, when meat is cooked at high temperatures, many known carcinogens are produced. These include heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and acrylamide. These products help create some of the aroma and browning associated with cooked meat. Although tasty, these certainly do contribute to cancer; especially colorectal cancer. It is therefore much better to consume a reduced amount of red meat and cook red meat that is consumed at lower temperatures.

Cancer-Fighting Foods

Luckily, eating healthy isn’t all about avoiding foods! It’s also important to include nourishing foods with anti-cancer properties. Some of these properties include antioxidant status and micronutrient density. Antioxidants are chemicals which oppose free radicals (compounds which react uncontrollably with oxygen) by stabilizing the cell. Micronutrient density has to do with the amount of vitamins and minerals within foods. Each vitamin and mineral plays an integral role in the healthy functioning of various body tissues. Important anti-cancer micro nutrients include calcium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin K2, vitamin D, vitamin C and the B vitamins—with are loaded with folates. Fruits and vegetables are both incredibly important to ensure that antioxidant and micronutrient status are good. Fruits and vegetables are also important for their inherent fiber which has been proven to help reduce certain cancers.

Energy Balance

Another important consideration in eating for cancer prevention is energy balance. The best condition for our physical health is one where we are only consuming the calories that we need to function well. This is helpful because it can reduce the burden of digestion, detoxification and unnecessary hormonal influence.

If we don’t need the energy, why stress our bodies out more by consuming it? Such just forces our bodies to have to adjust functioning and find a place to store the excess? In addition, the added hormonal, structural, and metabolic stress of carrying extra weight can significantly influence our overall health. Obesity is a major risk factor for cancer. In fact, 20% of cancers could be avoided by reducing obesity. Eating based on our needs can help us reduce waste, externally and internally. It fosters a healthy connection of our minds to our health needs and allows us to build mindfulness into our daily lives.

In Sum

There are many different components of eating for cancer prevention. Not only is it beneficial to minimizing outright carcinogen ingestion, but we also want to be aware of carcinogens which emerge as a result of cooking or detoxification.  Once we reduce the intake of these foods, we then want to increase fruits and vegetables due to their antioxidant qualities, micronutrient density and intrinsic fiber. Finally, it’s important to be aware of balancing energy demand with energy consumption. The overall goal is to eat food which can support our bodies healthy functioning and reduce our overall stress.


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Kidney Cancer Intervention & Prevention

Kidney Cancer Awareness Month

This month is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, and March 8, is World Kidney Day. In this National Foundation for Cancer Research blog post, we will look at recent scientific advances in the battle against the most common form of the disease: Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC).

In 2018, just under 64,000 people will be diagnosed with kidney cancer in the United States. This staggering statistic places kidney cancer as one of the top 10 common cancers in the U.S. Luckily, we are starting to see groundbreaking medical intervention strategies for people suffering from RCC, its most prevalent iteration. We are also now able to identify major lifestyle approaches for RCC and other cancer risk mitigation efforts.


Emerging research coming out of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center has people in the RCC community excited. This research shows promising antitumor results with combining immunotherapy agents with anti-angiogenesis agents without adverse effects. This approach has been taken before but with much less success, due to the toxicities which developed from the combined treatments. However, the combination of axitinib (Inlyta) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) has now shown significant antitumor results in people with advanced kidney (also known as renal) cancers, without the toxicities that were previously experienced.

Kidney Cancer InterventionAxitinib is a small molecule tyrosine-kinase inhibitor which inhibits a protein growth factor that is crucial for the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). This helps shrink tumors by reducing their nutrient supply through the bloodstream. Pembrolizumab is an antibody which binds to our immune cells and allows them to better recognize cancer cells as “foreign” and pathogenic. Often times, cancer cells have proteins which block our immune system cell’s recognition of cancer cells as pathological. With this immunotherapy agent, the immune system can identify and attack cancer cells more effectively. These two drugs combined are proving to be safer, more effective and better tolerated for people with advanced kidney cancers. New immunotherapy agent and anti-angiogenesis agents, including atezolizumab and bevacizumab, are also being actively researched.

The current standard treatment option for patients with early detected lung cancer and comorbidities (other medical conditions), has now been proven to be effective and safe for those with RCC. This treatment is stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR). Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is a highly focused radiation treatment that gives an intense dose of radiation concentrated on a tumor, while limiting the dose to the surrounding organs. The recent research in the use of this treatment towards RCC has provided important information showing that it is effective, safe, well-tolerated and can preserve kidney function.

Kidney Cancer Prevention

Although treatments for kidney cancer are swiftly progressing, it is still of great importance to focus on prevention. The major risk factors for kidney cancer are smoking, obesity and high-blood pressure. Interestingly, there is a question of if antihypertensive medications (which reduce blood pressure) may actually be a risk factor for kidney cancer. The evidence is polarized and inconclusive in this area. Regardless, it is advised to address these three areas of health with a holistic approach. Finding the time to exercise, reducing stress, improving diet and taking the necessary steps to quit smoking will not only increase quality of life but also significantly reduce the likelihood of getting many different cancers, including RCC.

It is advised to set small, manageable goals which can build on themselves. These may include simply eating a banana four times a week or contacting a professional about quitting smoking.  Continue to read more NFCR blog posts to learn more about healthy living and cancer prevention.




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Genomic Computational Mapping and Nutritional Supplementation in Multiple Myeloma

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma (MM) is a bone marrow cancer that affects plasma cells. Bone marrow is the soft and spongy tissue which resides in the cavities of many of our bones. It is rich in cells which produce new blood cells. On average, 500 billion new blood cells are produced each day within the bone marrow. These cells can be categorized as either lymphoid (producing lymph cells) or myeloid (producing red blood cells, white blood cells (including plasma cells) and plasma). Normally, plasma cells work as part of the immune system to produce antibodies which can recognize and neutralize pathogens; but in MM, these cells become cancerous and grow out of control, leading to multiple painful bone tumors, as well as anemia, kidney failure and recurrent infections. MM relapse rates are quite high because of the inherent challenge of immunosuppression, given that the immune system itself is directly compromised. As a result, immunology has been a major focus of new treatment methods.

Predictive Computational Mapping

Standard treatments for MM include chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell transplants. With this being said, there has been an explosion of treatments for MM within the last 5 years. These include immunomodulatory agents, proteasome inhibitors, CAR T-cell therapy, steroids, alkylators and antibodies. Although very exciting and hopeful, this plethora of newly approved treatments has presented a new problem: what should be used and for whom, when should it be used and with what combination should it be used? The relevance of these questions is extremely pertinent in MM because there is a wide variety of person to person variability leading to significant variations in treatment effectiveness and cost (health and financial). This newly presented problem has ramped up research efforts in predictive computational mapping, which aims to predict treatment outcome based on various biomarkers.

Professionals are now able to effectively predict how each patient will respond to different treatment methods for MM. This ground-breaking discovery is capable of changing the face of MM intervention by increasing patient outcomes and improving the understanding of the mechanisms behind treatment failure. This predictive computational mapping is achieved through genomic database information calculations. These calculations can look at the various drug interactions and their impact on the cell signaling and metabolism of many different MM phenotypes. The phenotypes of patient’s tumors are determined through tumor biopsies. This information is then entered into the computational modelling system where a variety of drug interactions and doses can be tested to see what specific modulating chemicals will most effectively target the specific form of MM which is present. 

Nutritional Supplementation

MM is still considered an incurable disease.  As a result, scientists and medical professionals are quite open to holistic intervention strategies. Luckily, two nutrients have been shown to be effective in reducing myelomas by promoting cancer cell death. These two nutrients are curcumin and vitamin K2. Curcumin is a well-known anti-inflammatory chemical that is naturally occurring in foods such as turmeric. Curcumin has an interaction with the MCL-1 gene and protein. This protein encoded by the gene plays a role in limiting cellular apoptosis or “programmed cell death” which normally occurs when mutation or damage has occurred within a cell. The upregulation of MCL-1 activity is involved in cancer progression and life-maintenance. Curcumin has the ability to downregulate this protein and therefore, support cancer cell death. Curcumin is, however, not very bioavailable when taken orally. The water-soluble chemical can easily be degraded by stomach acid and absorption can be a problem. As a result, it’s advised to take curcumin in the liposomal micelle form which is over 200x more absorptive.

Vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble quinone-based chemical with many import biological functions including supporting normal tissue calcium distribution, cellular metabolism and normal clotting. Like curcumin, vitamin K2 increases cancer cell apoptosis. It does so by changing the expression of various signaling proteins within the cell. Ultimately, the cell becomes less likely to divide and more likely to spontaneously die if mutated. Vitamin K2 is found in green leafy vegetables, onions, cabbage, broccoli, prunes and other natural foods. It can also be taken with supplement.

Both vitamin K2 and curcumin can be complementary additions to traditional medical intervention for MM or as a part of prevention strategies. With this being said, please consult with your doctor before taking new supplements to ensure they are safe for you.


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