Fighting Cancer Cells with Food

Not many words in the dictionary can ignite fear like cancer. And the general progression when you hear that you or someone you know has cancer is, has it spread. But what does “spread” really mean? Metastasis.

Metastasis is the expansion of the original tumor to distant sites within the body. Cancer turns from treatable to terminal when the original tumor metastasizes through the lymph and blood stream to distant organs in the body, the most common being the bones, brain and lungs. Metastasis is driven by angiogenesis, one of the hallmarks of cancer. Angiogenesis is an essential human function that helps ensure oxygen and nutrients are delivered through our body via blood vessels. However, like most functions in the human body it has to be in that Goldilocks zone (not too much, not too little). And when there is too much angiogenesis, the number of blood vessels can multiply out of control and as a result, feed tumors excess oxygen and nutrients so that they can spread. (1)

Certain factors can lead to excessive angiogenesis, including obesity, high copper levels, a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy terrain. Thankfully, research has uncovered anti-angiogenesis (and angiogenic) foods and now many consider angio-prevention as one of the main cancer treatment tools (and as a side, angiogenesis is a goal of many pharmaceutical cancer treatments). The mechanism that makes a food anti-angiogenic is its ability to interrupt the formation of new blood vessels before a tumor has a chance to progress. (2)

Understanding angiogenesis has an especially important role after cancer treatment. As a survivor, you may be told you are in remission following treatment. However, after treatment even though there may be no evidence of disease (NED), there could be circulating cancer cells and cancer stem cells that are too small to be discoverable through traditional screening protocols. And adding to that, some traditional cancer treatments can enhance cancer stem cells. (3)

What I like most about the power of angiogenesis, is there is a lot in our control through nutrition and lifestyle choices.

Among the most potent anti-angiogenic foods are:

  • Curcumin*
  • Grapeseed extract*
  • Citrus pectin
  • Aloe juice (unsweetened)
  • Chamomile tea
  • Soy (and it’s bioactives known as isoflavones): Fermented soy like tempeh and miso have higher concentration
  • Tomatoes: Specific varieties that are most concentrated include tangerine, black tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Slow cooking tomatoes in olive oil also enhances the anti-angiogenic effect.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, broccoli sprouts and kale
  • Parsley:The flavonoid apigenin found in parsley’s stems and leaves.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids*: Wild-caught fish, including salmon, have the highest concentration.

*these are things I personally supplement with to get the density needed to have an impact.

Other lifestyle habits that help control angiogenesis:

  • Keeping hydrated
  • Movement and exercise (but not too much HIIT)
  • Low insulin / low sugar diet
  • Balanced copper levels
  • Healthy gut microbiome
  • Reducing free radical damage (eat organic and plenty of antioxidants from colorful vegetables) that can damage blood vessels allowing cancer cells to enter blood stream

Focusing on reducing circulating cancer cells and cancer stem cells is something I personally stay focused on to prevent the risk of recurrence. And thankfully, it’s something I have in my control through my diet and lifestyle choices.

as noted, most traditional cancer screenings are not able to identify tumors until they have formed into a detectable mass made up of a billion cancer cells. Advances in cancer screening include liquid biopsies that can identify circulating tumor DNA for residual disease assessment, treatment response monitoring, and early recurrence monitoring. I had my tumor profiled from my surgery (they keep tumor tissue in banks for around 7 years), then it was profiled and my blood was tested against it to see if there was any disease remience. Thankfully, my test can back negative – meaning molecular residual disease (MRD) was not detected. I have the option to continue to do surveillance blood testing to hopefully confirm disease burden remains undetectable. Many of these tests and liquid biopsies are in research stages and some have yet to be approved by the FDA – but if you’re interested, ask your physician.

  1. Li W. Eat to Beat Disease. Balance. 2019.
  2. Cancer prevention by targeting angiogenesis. Nat Rev Clin Oncol 2012 Sep; 9(9):498-509.
  3. Galluzzi L, Vitale I, Aaronson SA, et al. Molecular mechanisms of cell death: recommendations of the Nomenclature Committee on Cell Death 2018. Cell Death Differ. 2018;25(3):486-541. doi:10.1038/s41418-017-0012-4

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