Mediterranean Diet May Lower Cancer Risk

Cancer Connect

by Laurie Wertich updated 5/2020

Postmenopausal women who consume a traditional Mediterranean diet may have a lower risk for breast cancer, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (1)

A traditional Mediterranean diet—one that is rich in fish, olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes and lower in red meat and dairy—has been associated with a lower rate of heart disease and cancer, including breast cancer. This recent study was the first to evaluate the purported benefits of the Mediterranean diet within a Mediterranean country—in this case, Greece.

Researchers followed approximately 15,000 women in Greece for almost 10 years. Participants’ diets were assessed by questionnaire, and a score ranging from 0 to 9 was given based on the extent to which the women followed a traditional Mediterranean diet. A higher score indicated greater adherence to the diet. During this time, 240 women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • Postmenopausal women with greater adherence to the diet (a score between 6 and 9) had a reduced risk of breast cancer of 22%.
  • Among premenopausal women, greater adherence to the diet was not associated with a lower risk for breast cancer.

The researchers concluded postmenopausal women who follow a traditional Mediterranean diet may have a decreased risk of breast cancer. There is a lower incidence of breast cancer in Mediterranean countries, which may be partially explained by the traditional diet.

Healthy Diet and Lifestyle Reduces Risk of Cancer

According to the results of a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, individuals with the healthiest lifestyles cut their risk of pancreatic cancer by more than half. (2)

The causes of pancreatic cancer remain uncertain. Factors that increase the risk of developing pancreatic cancer include cigarette smoking, increasing age, certain dietary characteristics, obesity, diabetes, and chronic pancreatitis.

To explore how combinations of healthy or unhealthy behaviors influence pancreatic cancer risk, researchers evaluated information from 450,416 participants in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Study participants were between the ages of 50 and 71 at the time of study enrollment in 1995-1996. From the time of enrollment through 2003, 1,057 of the study participants were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

For the current analysis, study participants were graded on five positive lifestyle factors: not smoking, limited alcohol use, Mediterranean diet pattern, body mass index between 18 and 25, and regular exercise. Each factor was given a value of 1 for healthy and 0 for not healthy.

Compared with individuals with the least healthy combination of behaviors, those with the most healthy combination cut their risk of pancreatic cancer by more than half.

These results suggest that the risk of pancreatic cancer can be substantially reduced by not smoking; limiting alcohol intake; maintaining a healthy weight; engaging in regular physical activity; and eating a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil.


  1. Trichopoulou A, Bamia C, Lagiou P, et al. Conformity to traditional Mediterranean diet and breast cancer risk in the Greek EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition) cohort.American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2010.29619.
  2. Jiao L, Panagiota NM, Reedy J et al. A combined healthy lifestyle score and risk of pancreatic cancer in a large cohort study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009;169:764-770.

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