Common questions

After a diagnosis, it’s common to have many questions about food and cancer. The following answers address some of the most common concerns.

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Can food cause cancer?

The link between food and cancer is complex. There are many different types of cancer and many different causes of cancer, only some of which are understood.

Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control. The reason for this change is unknown, but lifestyle and diet can sometimes play a part.

Poor eating habits combined with other lifestyle factors (such as smoking, too little exercise, drinking too much, being overweight and too much sunlight exposure) may, over a long period of time, increase the risk of developing some cancers.

Does excess food feed the cancer?

Cancer does not grow from eating too much food.

Some people think that fasting helps treat cancer, but there’s no evidence to support this. Not eating enough can leave you feeling weak and affect your ability to cope with treatment. The important thing is to try to eat a wide variety of food, and to eat enough to meet your body’s needs.

Some people worry that eating food with sugar makes the cancer grow faster. To manage this, they may eliminate all sugar from their diet, but this may mean they miss out on beneficial food such as fruit.

Should I avoid processed meats and red meat?

Recently, the World Health Organization classified processed meats such as bacon and salami as a Class 1 carcinogen. This means there is a definitive link with cancer, and it puts processed meats in the same category as other causes of cancer such as tobacco, alcohol and ultraviolet radiation. Red meat has been classified as a Class 2A carcinogen, which means it probably causes cancer, but the evidence isn’t as strong.

These classifications do not indicate the risk of getting cancer; they describe the strength of the evidence that these foods are linked to cancer.

Cancer Council recommends limiting or avoiding eating processed meats such as bacon and salami. You don’t have to stop eating red meat during or after treatment, but limit serves to 65–100 g of lean red meat (e.g. beef, lamb, pork, kangaroo, goat) 3–4 times a week (maximum of 455 g a week). Add extra vegetables to your plate, or try fish, eggs, chicken or legumes (such as chickpeas or lentils) instead of red meat.

Is organic food better?

Organic farmers and food producers grow and produce food without pesticides or fertilisers. They also don’t use genetically modified components or irradiate food. Some people believe it’s better to eat organic food because they’re not eating extra chemicals in their food.

There is no strong evidence that organic food is better for you, or that it will help you recover faster or reduce the risk of cancer coming back.

Organic fruits and vegetables contain the same vitamins and minerals as conventionally grown produce. However, they can be more expensive to buy. Focus on eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, rather than whether or not they’re organic.

Should I follow a special diet?

People often ask what they should eat after a cancer diagnosis. They may consider changing their diet to help their body cope with the effects of cancer and its treatment, and to give themselves the best chance of recovery.

Some people claim that a particular diet can cure or control cancer on its own. However, there are no special foods, diets or vitamin and mineral supplements that have been scientifically proven to do this. These unproven diets often encourage people to eliminate one or more basic food groups,
include large amounts of specific fruits, vegetables or their juices, and to take special supplements.

Unproven diets, particularly those that suggest cutting out whole food groups, are likely to be low in energy (kilojoules/calories), protein, fat, iron, calcium, zinc and vitamins. Following one of these diets can cause unwanted weight loss and tiredness, and lower your immune function. This may make it harder for you to cope with treatment and lead to malnutrition. Unproven diets are often expensive and can prevent you from enjoying social occasions.

Before changing what you eat, following a specific diet, or taking large quantities of vitamins or mineral supplements. talk to your doctor or dietitian. They can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different diets.

Should I try juice therapy?

Juice therapy involves using fresh fruit and vegetable juice as the main source of food. Supporters claim it improves the immune system, reduces blood pressure and helps to clean out (detoxify) the body.

The health benefits of whole fruits and vegetables are well known, but the benefits of juice therapy are not. By drinking only juice, you miss out on the
fibre contained in whole fruits and vegetables. This may lead to weight loss and malnutrition.

It’s best to drink fresh fruit and vegetable juices as part of a healthy balanced diet.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Nutrition and Cancer.

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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in May 2016
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