Diet and cervical cancer: What is the link?

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Cervical cancer is one of the most common gynecologic cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 14,000 people will receive a diagnosis of cervical cancer in the United States in 2022.

Up to 99.7% of cervical cancer cases result from infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). This viral infection causes abnormal changes to the cervix, leading to the development of this form of cancer.

Doctors may diagnose cervical cancer during routine health screens such as Pap smears and HPV testing. The condition is often asymptomatic.

In addition to regular Pap smears and HPV testing, there are three HPV vaccines that protect against some strains of HPV known to cause cervical cancer.

Other factors that influence the progression of HPV to cervical cancer include smoking, exposure to environmental toxins, coinfection with sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, and diet and nutrition.

Diet and nutrition play a role in the development of cervical cancer.

In fact, adequate nutrition helps to optimize the immune system, which, in turn, eliminates HPV and helps the body respond against cancer tumors.

However, research on the role of diet and nutrition in preventing or reducing the risk of developing cervical cancer has focused on antioxidant nutrients and dietary patterns that mitigate the impact of HPV.

Diets with high inflammatory potential — much like the Western-style dietary pattern — are associated with the development of cervical cancer, particularly among women who have an HPV infection and a sedentary lifestyle.

A Western diet — which is typically high in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium — reportedly increases chronic inflammation and makes controlling HPV infections more challenging. Persistent HPV infection leads to the development of cervical cancer.

On the other hand, adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, peas or beans, healthy fats, and fish — may lead to a lower risk of both HPV infection and cervical cancer.

The intake of antioxidants, such as the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene, and the vitamins C, E, and A may suppress the development of cervical cancer, particularly among those that smoke.

Furthermore, nutrients such as folate, vitamin D, and lycopene may stop the progression of HPV to cervical cancer.

Each of these antioxidant nutrients plays various protective and overlapping roles during the developmental stages of cervical cancer.

Therefore, it is best to focus on overall dietary patterns and not just on single nutrients.

An observational study in nearly 300,000 women suggests that an increased intake of fruits and vegetables — which are rich in various antioxidant nutrients — is associated with a reduced risk for cervical cancer.

A daily increase of 100 grams (g) of fruit, the equivalent of 1 cup of cranberries, was associated with a reduced risk of cervical cancer. Likewise, a daily increase of 100 g of vegetables has a similar effect.

Adopting a dietary pattern similar to the Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation and cervical cancer risk.

A person could eat more:

  • fruit and vegetables, focusing on variety of colors and textures
  • complex carbs, such as whole grain rice, pasta, bread, and couscous
  • nuts, seeds, and olive oils, which are healthy, unsaturated fats, to replace saturated and trans fats
  • herbs and spices, such as onion and garlic, while limiting added sodium
  • low fat dairy, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • legumes such as peas, lentils, and beans, including garbanzo beans and red beans

In addition to maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet, the use of a daily multivitamin supplement among women with HPV is associated with a less severe HPV infection and a lower risk for progression to cervical cancer.

Foods with high inflammatory potential are associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.

The “fast food culture” of the Western diet, characterized by processed foods that are low in dietary fiber and rich in added sugars, increases inflammation and is implicated in the development of cancers.

Thus, foods to limit or avoid include:

  • foods high in added sugar
  • processed meats such as deli meat
  • red meats
  • foods high in saturated and trans fats

The excessive consumption of added sugars from sugary beverages, dairy desserts, and table sugar significantly increased the risk of cancer in a 10-year observational study in over 100,000 individuals.

Red meats such as veal, pork, and lamb in the amount of 101–200 g per day are associated with an increased risk of cancer development in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women.

Limit the intake of animal-based and industrially produced sources of saturated and trans fats, which research has shown to promote cancerous tumor growth.

Naturally occurring and plant-based sources of saturated and trans fats did not have a negative impact on cancer risk.

Pro-inflammatory foods disrupt the balance of “good” bacteria living in the gut, induce inflammation, and increase cancer risk.

There are several at-home, natural remedies that promise to treat or cure cervical cancer without medical intervention.

Some natural practices — such as drinking green tea — may offer benefits for someone with cervical cancer. However, these do not replace the need for appropriate medical intervention and treatment.

Despite emerging research into medicinal herbs for cervical cancer treatment, further investigation into these anticancer plants, their active compounds, and safe doses is required.

Always consult with your oncological medical team to determine the best treatment options.

Cervical cancer is one of the most common gynecologic cancers. Infection with HPV causes 99.7% of cases.

There is a clear link between diet and nutrition, the progression of HPV infection, and the subsequent development of cervical cancer.

The fast-food culture of the Western diet — the hallmarks of which are processed foods, red meats, low dietary fiber, and high added sugar — is pro-inflammatory and associated with an increased risk for cervical cancer.

Research suggests that antioxidant nutrients such as carotenoids, vitamins A, C, E, D, and folate — all found predominantly in a Mediterranean-style diet — may prevent or reduce HPV infection, and by extension, the development of cervical cancer.

Limit pro-inflammatory foods and increase fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidant nutrients, to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

Avoid replacing appropriate medical intervention and treatment with at-home, natural remedies to manage cervical cancer. Consult with your oncological medical team for the best treatment options.

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