Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer Prevention

One-third of all cancer deaths in the United States each year, are linked to diet and physical activity. Therefore, to reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancers, it is important to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, and eat a healthy diet.

Body weight and cancer
Women who are overweight may have a greater risk for cancers of the breast (after menopause), endometrium, cervix and ovaries. The weight that is gained during adulthood may also increase the risk for cancer of the endometrium, and breast in postmenopausal women. Women who gain weight around their waistline are at great risk for these cancers. The body mass index (BMI) can indicate if a weight is healthy. The BMI is calculated using a person’s weight in relation to their height. A BMI chart is an easy way to look this up. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is healthy, BMI between 25 and 29.9 is overweight, and BMI of 30 and above is obese. Women should aim for a healthy BMI.

Physical activity and cancer
Studies show that moderate and vigorous physical activity are linked with lower breast cancer risk, and may protect women against post-menopausal breast cancer. Physical activity may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and diabetes. A good starting point is to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Moderate activities include dancing, brisk walking, and bicycling. To help prevent excessive weight gain, 60 minutes or more of moderate activity every day, or 30 minutes or more of vigorous activity is suggested. Vigorous activities include jogging, running and tennis. Women over 50 years of age, with serious medical problems should check with their doctor before starting any intense physical activity program.

Diet and cancer
When planning a healthy diet, health experts suggest following these guidelines:

1. Avoid food and drinks that are high in sugar. Sodas, sports drinks, fruit drinks, cakes, pies, and cookies are very high in empty calories and fat, and low in important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

2. Eat more plant-based foods of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, peas, beans, lentils. A plant-based diet is made up of foods that come mostly from plants. Plant-foods are more wholesome and are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients (plant nutrients). Phytonutrients help to protect the cells in the body from damage, and help boost the immune system.

3. Limit processed meats and red meats. Processed meats are generally smoked, cured or salted. Processing of cold cuts, sausage, bacon, ham and hot dogs adds cancer-causing substances like salt or sodium nitrite. Studies have linked eating large amounts of processed meats with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Health experts recommend that red meats like beef, lamb, and pork should be limited to no more than 18 ounces a week. If meat is part of the diet, it is better to eat lean meats, fish, poultry, or beans. Cook by baking broiling, poaching or steaming, instead of frying.

4. Avoid alcohol. Women who drink alcohol should drink no more than one drink a day (no more than two per day for men). One drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces 80-proof distilled spirits. Drinking alcohol can cause cancers of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum. Studies show that the risk for breast cancer increases, when the drinking of alcohol increases.

5. Limit the use of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium). Too much salty may increase the risk of stomach cancer as well as high blood pressure. Salt in the diet should be less than 2,400 milligrams a day; about one teaspoon. Cut back on the added in cooking, and avoid salty foods and snacks.

6. Avoid using supplements for cancer prevention. Taking large doses of supplements may have serious side effects, especially if taken with certain medications. Women should also avoid taking soy pills, unless a doctor approves. In certain cases, a woman may need calcium or vitamin D supplements to prevent osteoporosis (brittle bones), but this should be prescribed by a doctor.

7. Phytonutrients and antioxidants. Studies show that plant foods contain thousands of phytonutrients that may have cancer-fighting benefits. Plant foods are rich in antioxidants like vitamin A, C, E and beta carotene. These include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Other excellent sources of phytonutrients are: Green tea, grapes, wine, berries, citrus fruits, apples, whole grains, soy, and nuts. Brightly colored vegetables and fruits are the best sources of phytonutrients. Since no single food can provide all of the health benefits to reduce cancer risk, it is best to eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.



1. Various education resources

2. National Cancer Institute

3. American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)

4. American Cancer Society –

5. Women’s health

6. Breast Cancer

7. Patient education

8. Eating well During and After Cancer Treatment


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