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For many years Dr Wilkinson has been interested in evidence that diet can have a significant impact on cancer.

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Fighting cancer with food

Published: Mater Hospital News (Online), Brisbane, September 2009

It is often discounted as “complementary” rather than critical in the fight against cancer, but evidence that diet can have a significant impact on cancer patient survival outcomes is growing. Surgical oncologist and visiting specialist at Mater Private Breast Cancer Centre, Dr David Wilkinson, is one doctor working hard to spread the word.

“In the past, the perception has been that things like diet and exercise are helpful in terms of improving quality of life for breast cancer patients, without being significant factors in survival,” Dr Wilkinson explained.

“Studies are now showing that these things may improve survival rates and reduce the likelihood of cancer recurrence.”

Dr Wilkinson points to research such as the 2005 Women’s Intervention Nutritional Study undertaken in the Unites States that found women with oestrogen receptor negative tumours on a low fat diet had a 42 per cent lower relative risk of breast cancer recurrence than women on a standard diet.

Work from Montreal, Canada has shown many specific vegetable “phyto-nutrients” to be very effective against cancer in cell cultures and animal studies.

The results of a 10 year study in Canada which measured vitamin 25-OH D levels in the blood of 512 newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients, and then followed their progress over the decade, revealed that women in the group with deficient vitamin D levels had significantly worse distant disease-free survival. The prognostic significance of vitamin D levels was found to be independent of patient age or weight, tumour stage or tumour grade.

Similarly, a four year study by Creighton University School of Medicine in the United States found a 60 per cent relative reduction in cancer risk in women who received vitamin D (50 out of 1179 women developed cancer). Vitamin D is mainly from sunlight but can be taken as a supplement.

According to Dr Wilkinson, these and other research efforts looking at things like the cancer blocking agents in green tea and the problems caused by consuming excessive animal products, are providing the medical fraternity’s evidence-based sensibilities with the proof needed to give diet a new level of credence in cancer treatment.

“As a specialist oncologist whose key role is to operate on cancer patients, the diet side of things has not really been my area of specialty, but I see genuine merit in it, and a few other specialists are talking about it,” Dr Wilkinson continued.

“In my view it doesn’t get the attention it deserves and I find that patients are very enthusiastic about taking on an active role in their own cancer management.”



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