by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Cancer is one of the most common illnesses. There are many different types of cancer. Some may have a clear cause, like a virus, but many do not have a clear single cause. Most are likely a combination of genetics, surroundings, overall health, and habits. Diet has been linked to many different types of diet.

Researchers wanted to look for links between diet and cancer in a large pool of people. The study, published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum, estimated that 80,110 new cancer cases (5.2%) in the United States in 2015 were associated with poor diet.

About the Study

Data was collected from 2 previous studies: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2013 to 2016) and 2015 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food choices, habits, and development of cancer were tracked. This trial used a CRA model to estimate associations between food and cancer.

The study estimated that 80,110 new cancer cases in adults 20 and older in the United States in 2015 were due to:

  • Low intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy
  • High intake of processed meats, red meats, and sugary drinks like soda

The study also found that:

  • More colorectal cancer (38.3%) was linked to diet-related issues than any other cancer
  • Low consumption of whole grains and dairy products were linked to highest risk
  • Men had more diet-associated cancer cases than women
  • The number of diet-associated cancer cases was higher among adults 65 years of age and older
  • Racial/ethnic minorities had higher for the overall cancer burden than non-Hispanic White people

How Does This Affect You?

A large data pool increases the reliability of data. However, the included trials are observational studies which means that it can only show a link not a cause and effect. One limit is that people's habits change over time. It is not clear how long these habits were in effect. The information was also self reported. People may over or under report their actual habits. There are a number of other studies that point to a benefit of a healthy diet for cancer prevention. This data overall adds more support and has also highlighted specific factors like dairy and fiber.

Unfortunately, there is no magic step to prevent all cancers. The food choices found in this study are in line with most healthy diet recommendations. They can decrease your risk for different diseases including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Work towards a healthy balanced diet in small steps. Goals should include eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy. Limit processed meats, red meats, and sugary drinks.


American Cancer Society  

Cancer Care  


Desilver D. What's on your table? Pew Research Center website. Available at: Published December 13, 2016.

Zhang FF, Cudhea F, et al. Preventable cancer burden associated with poor diet in the United States. JNCI Cancer Spectrum. Available at: Published May 22, 2019.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • Review Date: 05/2019