Frequently Asked Questions

You have questions, we have answers. Our Oncology Dietitian addresses those here.

Does sugar feed cancer?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. There are two basic forms of carbohydrates — simple (added sugars, syrup, candy, soda) and complex (milk, fruit, vegetables, grains).  When you eat carbohydrates, they are broken down by your body into glucose, which is a fuel for ALL cells in your body. If we don’t give our body enough carbohydrates through food, the body will be forced to make it, which results in muscle loss and a weakened immune system.

There is insufficient evidence to show a direct link between eating sugars and cancer growth. We do know that diets high in simple carbohydrates (added sugars) increases the risk for diabetes and obesity, which are linked to increased risk of some cancers. Bottom line—you do not need to avoid eating carbohydrates during treatment, but choose more complex carbohydrates for their nutritional value.

Can I eat soy if I have breast cancer?

Soy foods contain isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens that in some ways act like estrogen but are very weak. Because high levels of estrogen are linked to increased breast cancer risk, there was a fear that soy foods could increase risk. Human studies show soy foods do NOT increase risk, and in some cases, research suggest soy may lower risk. Soy foods (like edamame, soy nuts, tofu) contain several key nutrients and phytochemicals studies for their cancer prevention properties. Soy foods also contain dietary fiber, which may lower risk of colorectal cancer. 

Should I be eating organic foods?

The term “organic” is defined as food grown on contaminant-free land without pesticides or herbicides. There are many reasons why people choose organic foods, but at this time it is not known whether organic foods help reduce cancer risk any more than non-organic foods. Keep in mind that just because something is labeled as “organic” does not always mean “healthy”.

Should I be taking dietary supplements?

Dietary supplement use is common among Americans. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act defines dietary supplements as products taken by mouth that contain “dietary ingredients” used to supplement the diet. Dietary ingredients are: vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids, enzymes, metabolites, or organ tissues. Dietary supplements may be recommended and prescribed for you by your healthcare team for specific medical conditions (osteoporosis, anemia, pregnancy). However, there is much controversy concerning the use of dietary supplements during cancer treatment — especially antioxidants. Of concern is the possibility that dietary supplement may interact with treatment and make it less effective. Other studies show the opposite. In general, I recommend patients undergoing treatment try to get their nutrients through whole foods, not from pills. Dietary supplements should not replace food. Eat a wide variety of foods, including at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Is it OK to exercise during cancer treatment?

Most experts recommend that people with cancer become and stay as physically active as they safely can. Check with your healthcare provider regarding the right physical activity for you. The benefits of physical activity are many:

  • It can help decrease some common side effects from treatment like fatigue, stress, nausea, anxiety.
  • It can help improve quality of life.
  • It can increase your muscle mass and strength.
  • It helps to reduce the risk of some secondary cancers and recurrence.