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Diet Can Impact Lung Cancer Risk

Medically reviewed by Todd Gersten, M.D.
Written by Maureen McNulty
Posted on March 30, 2022

  • A new study helps shed light on how food choices are connected to cancer risk.
  • The study found that eating fruits, vegetables, breakfast cereals with high fiber and low sugar, and other high-fiber foods helped protect against lung cancer.
  • Researchers also reported that eating red meat or processed meat may increase a person’s lung cancer risk.

Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, and it’s the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. While experts have long known that smoking cigarettes is a lung cancer risk factor, new research published in September 2021 shows that certain foods can also affect risk.

Fruits, vegetables, breakfast cereals, and foods that contain fiber help protect against lung cancer, the study found. On the other hand, red meat (such as beef, lamb, or pork) and processed meat (including bacon, lunch meat, sausage, and hot dogs) can raise the risk of developing the condition.

To conduct the study, researchers collected data from more than 416,000 people in the UK Biobank. This database contains health information, including details about diet, from people around the United Kingdom.

The study authors compared the typical diet of people who were diagnosed with lung cancer to the diet of those who hadn’t developed the disease over a seven-year period. They found:

  • Study participants were 10 percent less likely to develop lung cancer for every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of fruit they ate each day.
  • People were 11 percent less likely to be diagnosed with this condition for every 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of vegetables eaten per day.
  • Participants were 19 percent less likely to have lung cancer for every 50 grams (1.75 ounces) of breakfast cereals they ate per day.
  • People were 24 percent less likely to develop this cancer for every 5 grams of fiber they had each day.

The researchers also discovered that lung cancer was more common in those who ate certain foods:

  • A person’s chances of getting lung cancer increased by 36 percent for every 50 grams (1.75 ounces) of red meat eaten per day.
  • The risk of lung cancer rises by 30 percent for every 25 grams of processed meats consumed each day.

In the study, researchers also analyzed overall diet patterns. They discovered that people had a lower risk of lung cancer if they more closely followed a “Prudent” pattern, which consists of a lot of salad, vegetables, fruit, and fish. However, those who followed a Western diet pattern and ate a lot of poultry, beef, lamb, pork, and processed meat were more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer.

“These findings suggest that a plant-based diet as a modifiable lifestyle factor should be promoted regarding lung cancer prevention,” the authors concluded.

Posted on March 30, 2022
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Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Maureen McNulty studied molecular genetics and English at Ohio State University. Learn more about her here.

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