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Conference examines link between cancer and diet

To fight ovarian cancer, Marissa Harris underwent chemotheraphy, changed her diet and began taking dietary supplements.  

April 19, 1999
Web posted at: 2:35 p.m. EDT (1835 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Linda Ciampa

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- At a weekend experimental biology conference, several presentations have examined the growing conviction among some doctors and patients that certain foods can help prevent cancer.

Researchers at a meeting of the Federation of American Scientists Experimental Biology say it could take years of clinical trials to prove or disprove assertions that green tea, soy and produce might help prevent cancer. A growing number of cancer patients like Marissa Harris are opting not to wait.

Last year, doctors diagnosed Harris with ovarian cancer. They told her she most likely had only nine months to live.

"At first, I totally accepted that," Harris said.

But she then decided to fight back. She underwent chemotherapy and followed the advice of Dr. Mitch Gaynor, who wrote a book on cancer prevention through diet. Harris dramatically changed her eating habits and began taking dietary supplements.

Now, just a few months later, Gaynor says Harris is in remission.

"I think without the diet, my chances for cancer coming back are huge," Harris said.

The diet prescribed by Gaynor, a cancer specialist at Strang Cancer Prevention Center in New York, focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, herbs, fish, soy, olive oil and green tea. These foods all are rich in phytonutrients. As part of the diet, patients also take supplements that contain such phytonutrients, along with antioxidants.

"Diet has been identified for being responsible for between 30 and 50 percent of all cancer," Gaynor said.

While most health experts agree poor eating habits are a major reason more than half a million Americans die of cancer each year, the notion that an improved diet can prevent cancer is stirring controversy.

Dr. Moshe Shike of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center points to clinical trials that show antioxidant supplements having no effect in reducing the risk of cancer.

"No diet, no supplements, no herbs, no antioxidants, no herbs -- there is no such thing that people can take by mouth to prevent cancer," Shike said.

But he said a good diet along with exercise, a healthy lifestyle and regular cancer screenings can go a long way toward reducing the risk of cancer.

Cancer specialist Dr. Mitch Gaynor recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, soy, green tea and supplements that contain phytonutrients and antioxidants.  

University program brings traditional and alternative medicines together
April 7, 1999
Ask the Dietitian - Decaffeinated green tea
March 10, 1999
Alternative therapies moving toward the mainstream
February 23, 1999
More cancer patients, doctors explore alternative therapies
June 12, 1998
Study: More doctors learning alternative medicine, but safety still questioned
September 1, 1998
Journal gives stern warning on unproven dietary supplements
September 17, 1998
From herbs to acupuncture: Journal explores effectiveness of alternative medicine
November 10, 1998

Federation of American Scientists Experimental Biology
Strang Cancer Prevention Center
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
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