Be Active Against Cancer: Diet and Lifestyle Tips

The conditions in which we live and work, and our 21st century lifestyles, influence our health and quality of life, increasing the risk of many chronic diseases, including cancer. Although cancer is a difficult and emotive subject, talking about it can improve outcomes at an individual, community and policy level. Many people know of the usual risk factors. Tobacco use is the most common risk factor, as well as alcohol which current trends show an increase in consumption which results in many more cancers, even more so in women. Overweight and obesity is increasing globally at an alarming rate, including among children and adolescents. Also of concern is the high proportion of overweight people living in low resource settings (two-thirds of the global total). Overweight and obesity is also strongly linked to increased risks of bowel, breast, uterine, pancreatic, oesophagus, kidney and gallbladder cancers. Rising rates of obesity will lead to increased cancer rates unless policies and actions are taken to improve people’s diets and levels of physical activity.

On the occasion of World Cancer Day, I am going to dispel the myth that there is nothing we can do about cancer. Research shows that, with a healthier diet and lifestyle a third of the most common cancers can be prevented. I will discuss lifestyle and food choices that can help prevent cancer.

You can join me either at East Sheen Library on the 4th of February at 2:30 or at East Sheen Primary School on the 12th of February at 6pm.

Be active against cancer School talk copy          Be active against cancer copy

Healthy Diet – Key for Cancer Survivors

Last week at the Late Effects of Cancer Treatment Conference’ in Sheffield some of the discussion was around the importance of diet for cancer survivors. 

Dan Porter, a cancer survivor who spoke on the last day, said that the first thing he did after his cancer diagnosis was to find out how he could improve his diet. He said how difficult/impossible it was to find information through mainstream and how much research he had to do on his own to discover what foods and dietary changes would help him. He also commented that “scientists can become cynical and dismiss things that can be helpful to patients”.

 This is a common theme amongst people who are diagnosed with cancer and their carers. If we ask patients or read their cancer online blogs they say how they have no access to decent information about nutrition, diet and exercise. This is one of them:

And yet, recent findings confirm that specialised aspects of nutrition play a major and hitherto unsuspected role in both the causation of disease and the regeneration on a cellular level, which of course is absolutely fundamental in dealing with cancer.

The relevance of nutrition to cancer survivors is very considerable because of its tangible influence on the lengthening of life and improvement in quality of life, even in terminally ill patients. The emerging significance of nutrition means that even undergraduate students need to be made aware of these important developments in the treatment of cancer, which must not be neglected in shaping the treatment of cancer survivors.

Through my work as doctor at the Penny Brohn Cancer Care (PBCC) charity in Bristol and as a palliative care doctor in a hospice and the community, I have witnessed the importance of nutrition throughout the cancer patient’s journey. 

PBCC have produced evidence-based Healthy Eating Guidelines and have been offering nutritional advice for many years to hundreds of patients who come to benefit from their experience.

In my role as Chair of the Food and Nutrition Group at ‘Help the Hospices’, we have produced a Consensus Statement on Nutritional Care of Palliative Care Patients which has been widely endorsed by several organisations, including the Royal College of Physicians, The Royal College of Nursing, the British Dietetic Association, the National Council for Palliative Care and others. This shows the realisation by healthcare professionals of the importance of good nutritional care for people with palliative care needs. This importance can be easily translated and indeed extended to initiatives for cancer survivors who have a great opportunity to benefit from a good diet.

Patients, survivors and users ask first and foremost this question: ‘what should I eat’.

They want to help themselves.

They want information and support to understand how they can improve their diet and lifestyle in general.

Learning what foods are going to help them live better and longer, what foods will support their immune system and give them pleasure, could transform their experience and make their cancer journey less difficult.

During their treatment, they may experience a plethora of problems (nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, dry mouth, mucositis, pain, shortness of breath, reduced saliva, unexplained weight loss) that can be helped by good nutritional advice.

These can be dealt with an individualised plan, as no one person is the same and everyone’s needs are different.

When they finish their treatment they may continue with a healthy diet for secondary cancer prevention.

An effort to highlight the importance of a good diet and offer cancer survivors support and advice would benefit both those that need it and those who care for them. 

The author is making a plea for the recognition that research and evidence on the relevance of diet on cancer prevention and treatment has evolved quite fundamentally and needs to be included in the future agenda for cancer survivorship.


Olympic Gold Diet

My latest article and recipe in the Help the Hospices Information Bulletin

In Ancient Greece it was forbidden to export figs (called ‘syco’ in Greek). Furthermore, people were encouraged to expose those who secretly exported figs for profit. Some used this as an opportunity to falsely accuse others of this crime, to take personal revenge. This is where the modern word sycophant comes from.

Eleni’s article-Hosp Info Bul Jan 2012


Hippocrates, who lived 2,500 years ago, helped people maintain or restore their health by changing their DIET (ΔΙΑΙΤΑ). The word diet in Ancient Greek means ‘way of life’ and encompasses food, physical activity, massage, baths, sleep and other aspects of everyday activities.

We’ve known since ancient times that food, exercise and lifestyle, as well as the external environment, influence our healthFor this and many other reasons, food has always been a subject of interest for lay people, writers and philosophers alike. In the famous ancient cookery book ‘Deipnosophists’ (which means the ‘Banquet of Philosophers’) written by Athenaus in the 3rd century AD, we read the interesting story of the death of Democritus of Abdera, the ‘Laughing Philosopher’.

Feeling quite old at the age of 104, he had decided that his time had come to die. He had gradually reduced his food intake and was expecting to leave this life soon. It was however the time of a very important womens only festival, the Thesmophoria, dedicated to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone. His sister, who looked after him at his home and, who was herself more than 100 years old, asked him not to die during the festivities because she wanted to take part in them. Democritus, wanting to grant her wish, asked for a pot of honey to be brought to him. He kept himself alive for three days just by inhaling the fumes from the honey. When the festival had finished, the pot of honey was taken away and he passed away without any suffering.

This story from Ancient Greece graphically depicts many elements of nutritional care which we encounter in our modern medical practice and which we categorise as physical, cultural, social, ethical and emotional.





‘A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit in his illnesses’ Hippocrates

The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of 60 books attributed to the great ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, although not all of them are written directly by him.


Hippocrates’ plane tree, under which he taught his pupils

In the Corpus, a number of texts refer to the need for each person to take initiative for their own health. In the book ‘Regimen in Health’ the author says the following: 

‘A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit in his illnesses’

The Hippocratic doctor practised medicine close to the patient, listening carefully to their story and observing in great detail all aspects of signs and symptoms, as they developed over a period of time. Only then did he reach a conclusion as to the best treatment to restore health.

During treatment, the doctor continued to observe the patient and adapted his advice according to changes in the person’s clinical situation and environment.

Each person was given a personalised healthcare plan which involved adapting diet, physical activity and other aspects of daily life such as baths, sleep, natural exercises (singing, meditation) and habits.

In conjunction with this, the physician asked each person to take initiative for their own health. Engaging them in their own care was important for the success of the prescribed treatment, especially since it quite often lasted a long time.

The patient was asked to pay close attention to the reactions in their body.

This personalised approach and patient education and empowerment could help many people in our days, as diseases that are linked to our lifestyle (such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer) are increasing.

These diseases require a combined approach, which pays attention not only to drugs, but also to each person’s diet, physical activity and lifestyle in general.

This approach can only be successful if the patient is fully engaged with it and adopts it for a long time, if not for lifetime.