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Lower your risk of lung cancer by eating more foods high in anticancer substances, such as flavonoids, beta-carotene, and lycopene
Eat more healthy fish to lower your risk, and avoid fried, fatty, or well-done meat to avoid meat-related carcinogens
Kick the habit for good and steer clear of secondhand smoke, two of the leading causes of lung cancer
10,000 mcg a day of folic acid with a doctor's supervision and 500 mcg a day of vitamin B12 may help improve precancerous changes in some smokers' lungs
Lung cancer is a malignancy of the lung. It is characterized by unregulated replication of cells creating tumors, with the possibility of some of the cells spreading to other sites (metastasis).
This article includes a discussion of studies that have assessed whether certain vitamins, minerals, herbs, or other dietary ingredients offered in dietary or herbal supplements may be beneficial in connection with the reduction of risk of developing lung cancer.
This information is provided solely to aid consumers in discussing supplements with their healthcare providers. It is not advised, nor is this information intended to advocate, promote, or encourage self prescription of these supplements for cancer risk reduction or treatment. Furthermore, none of this information should be misconstrued to suggest that dietary or herbal supplements can or should be used in place of conventional anticancer approaches or treatments.
It should be noted that certain studies referenced below, indicating the potential usefulness of a particular dietary ingredient or dietary or herbal supplement in connection with the reduction of risk of lung cancer, are preliminary evidence only. Some studies suggest an association between high blood or dietary levels of a particular dietary ingredient with a reduced risk of developing lung cancer. Even if such an association were established, this does not mean that dietary supplements containing large amounts of the dietary ingredient will necessarily have a cancer risk reduction effect.
Cancer of the lung is the leading cause of death from cancer in both men and women in the United States. Cigarette smoking is by far the most important risk factor for the development of lung cancer. Air pollution is another risk factor. A previous diagnosis of tuberculosis increases the risk of lung cancer by 5 to 10%.
In its early stages, lung cancer usually causes no symptoms. As a result, lung cancer is generally not diagnosed until the disease is relatively advanced. At the time of diagnosis, common symptoms of lung cancer are similar to those of some other respiratory diseases: cough, blood stained sputum, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Lung cancer is sometimes diagnosed from a chest x-ray done for another condition. Pneumonia lasting more than two months may indicate the presence of lung cancer and should be followed-up with further testing. Later symptoms of lung cancer generally result from spread to other parts of the body (metastasis). These symptoms may include chest or shoulder pain, unexplained weight loss, bone pain, hoarseness, headaches, seizures and swelling of the face or neck. Lung cancer is usually a fatal disease, except for the minority of patients diagnosed at the early stages of the disease.
The following lifestyle changes have been studied in connection with lung cancer.
Cigarette smoking is universally acknowledged to be the leading cause of lung cancer, both in the United States and worldwide. By far the most important way to reduce the risk of lung cancer is to not smoke.1
Many studies now show that exposure to passive smoke—the cigarette smoke from others' cigarettes—significantly increases the risk of lung cancer.2 As non-smoking sections of restaurants have nearly the same level of smoke as do the smoking sections, it makes sense to seek restaurants that do not permit any smoking and to avoid bars unless they are also non-smoking establishments.
Inhalant exposure to diesel exhaust, pitch and tar, dioxin, arsenic, chromium, cadmium, and nickel compounds may also increase the risk of lung cancer.3 Exposure to asbestos is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.
Radon exposure has been reported to contribute to the risk of lung cancer in the general population.4 Radon, a natural radioactive substance, can leak into basements from the surrounding soil. Radon exposure can also occur from the water system of houses, particularly when people take showers. Underground miners are also exposed to varying amounts of radioactivity from radon.
Tomatoes contain lycopene—an antioxidant similar in structure to beta-carotene. Most lycopene in our diet comes from tomatoes, though traces of lycopene exist in other foods. Lycopene has been reported to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells in test tube research.
A review of published research found that higher intake of tomatoes or higher blood levels of lycopene correlated with a reduced risk of cancer in 57 of 72 studies. Findings in 35 of these studies were statistically significant. Evidence of a protective effect for tomato consumption was strongest for several cancers including lung cancer.
Fish eaters have been reported to have low risks of many cancers including lung cancer. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are thought by some researchers to be the components of fish responsible for protection against cancer.
Most studies suggest that as consumption of fruits and vegetables increases, risk of lung cancer decreases. Several ingredients in fruits and vegetables may be responsible for this apparent protective effect.
Flavonoids are found in virtually all fruits and vegetables. Onions and apples contain large amounts of a flavonoid called quercetin. Consumption of flavonoids in general, or quercetin-containing foods in particular, has been associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer in some preliminary reports, although not every study finds an association between flavonoid consumption and a reduced risk of cancer.
Researchers agree that people who eat yellow and orange fruits and vegetables—good sources of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene—are at lower risk for lung cancer. However, double-blind trials have shown that when nonsmokers supplement with (synthetic) beta-carotene, their risk of lung cancer is not reduced, and when smokers take (synthetic) beta-carotene supplements, their risk of lung cancer increases. These findings suggest that beta-carotene may not be the cause of the low lung cancer risk found in people who eat carotene-rich foods.
Preliminary studies have reported associations between an increasing intake of sugar or sugar-containing foods and an increased risk of several cancers including lung cancer. Whether this association exists because sugar directly promotes cancer or because sugar consumption is only a marker for some other dietary or lifestyle factor remains unknown.
Incidence of lung cancer correlates with dietary fat intake from country to country. Some, but not all, preliminary studies report consumption of saturated fat in both meat and dairy fat correlates with the risk of lung cancer, even among nonsmokers. Lung cancer risk appears directly related to consumption of foods containing saturated fat––not only from consumption of well-cooked meat. In one trial that was unable to find an association between lung cancer risk and total saturated fat intake, people consuming skim milk nonetheless had a 50% reduction in risk compared with people drinking whole-fat milk.
Consumption of fried and well-done red meat was associated with an elevated risk of lung cancer in one report. Consumption of red meat in general, as well as fried meat, correlated with a high risk of lung cancer in another study. People who cook with fat taken from meat (such as bacon fat and lard) have also been reported to be at high risk of lung cancer according to preliminary research.
Dietary cholesterol comes primarily from the consumption of eggs. Most, but not all, studies have reported that as dietary cholesterol increases, so does the risk of lung cancer. No clear explanation has yet emerged to account for this association.
Our proprietary "Star-Rating" system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
In double-blind trials, synthetic beta-carotene supplementation has led to an increased risk of lung cancer in smokers, though not in groups consisting primarily of nonsmokers. Smokers should avoid synthetic beta-carotene supplements, including the relatively small amounts found in many multivitamins.
The researchers who conducted the lung cancer trials have been criticized for not having used the natural form of beta-carotene. Preliminary evidence suggests that natural beta-carotene supplementation results in better antioxidant activity and anticancer activity in humans than does supplementation with synthetic beta-carotene. Nonetheless, much less is known about natural beta-carotene and questions remain about its potential efficacy. The effect of natural beta-carotene supplementation on lung cancer risk has yet to be studied.
The strong association between increased intake of beta-carotene from food and a reduced risk of lung cancer does not necessarily mean that supplementation with natural beta-carotene supplements would reduce the risk of lung cancer. Dietary beta-carotene may be a marker for diets high in certain fruits and vegetables that contain other anticancer substances that may be responsible for the protective effects. Until more is known, some doctors advise smokers to avoid all forms of beta-carotene supplementation—even natural beta-carotene.
Selenium has been reported to have diverse anticancer actions. Selenium inhibits cancer growth in animals. Low soil levels of selenium (probably associated with low dietary intake), have been associated with increased cancer incidence in humans. Blood levels of selenium have been reported to be low in patients with many cancers, including lung cancer. In preliminary reports, people with the lowest blood levels of selenium had between 3.8 and 5.8 times the risk of dying from cancer compared with those who had the highest selenium levels.
The strongest evidence supporting the anticancer effects of selenium supplementation comes from a double-blind trial of 1,312 Americans with a history of skin cancer who were treated with 200 mcg of yeast-based selenium per day or a placebo for 4.5 years and then followed for an additional two years. Although no decrease in skin cancers occurred, a 50% reduction in overall cancer deaths and a 37% reduction in total cancer incidence was observed. A 46% decrease in lung cancer incidence and a 53% drop in deaths from lung cancer also occurred. These findings were all statistically significant.
Relatively high blood levels and dietary levels of vitamin E have been associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer. In a preliminary trial, nonsmokers who took vitamin E supplements had a 45% lower risk of lung cancer compared with nonsmokers who did not supplement with vitamin E. While a double-blind trial reported that vitamin E supplementation had no effect on lung cancer risk, the amount used—approximately 50 IU per day—may have been too low to have a significant effect.
Preliminary animal and test tube research suggests that conjugated linoleic acid might reduce the risk of cancers at several sites, including breast, prostate, colorectal, lung, skin, and stomach.
Folic acid and vitamin B12 work together in the body to help cells replicate normally. In a double-blind trial, smokers with precancerous changes in the lungs were given a placebo or the combination of 10,000 mcg of folic acid and 500 mcg of vitamin B12 per day for four months. A significant reversal of precancerous changes occurred in those given vitamin supplements compared with those given the placebo. No trials have investigated whether either vitamin given alone or the combination of both vitamins would help to treat people who already have lung cancer.
Numerous preliminary studies have shown an association between drinking green tea and a reduced risk of several types of cancer including lung cancer. In contrast, preliminary studies of black tea consumption have not found that it protected against any type of cancer.
1. Murphy GP, Lawrence W, Lenhard RE (eds). American Cancer Society Textbook of Clinical Oncology, second edition. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, Inc., 1995, 221 [review].
2. Zhong L, Goldberg MS, Parent ME, Hanley JA. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and the risk of lung cancer: a meta-analysis. Lung Cancer 2000;27:3-18.
3. Murphy GP, Lawrence W, Lenhard RE (eds). American Cancer Society Textbook of Clinical Oncology, second edition. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, Inc., 1995, 221 [review].
4. Lubin JR, Boice JD Jr. Lung cancer risk from residential radon: meta-analysis of eight epidemiologic studies. J Natl Cancer Inst 1997;89:49-57.
Last Review: 06-08-2015
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