Foods that Fight Cancer

Dr. William Li, president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, wants to change the way we think about food. But first we have to change the way we think about cancer.

Although one in two American men and one in three American women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, research suggests that far more of us may be walking around with cancer than we would like to believe. “In autopsy studies of people who died in car accidents, up to 40% of women between age 40 and 50 have microscopic cancers in the breast, and about 50% of men in their fifties and sixties have them in their prostate glands,” says Li. “By the time we reach our seventies, virtually 100% of us will have microscopic cancers in our thyroid glands. We probably form microscopic cancers in our bodies all the time. We just don’t know it.”

At issue is the size of the cancers in question. Most, Li explains, never become big enough to present a threat to the normal functioning of the organs where they take up residence; instead, they remain about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen, unable to grow further without a blood supply. Because these cancers are too small to be detectable, this process repeats itself throughout our lives without our knowledge. Tiny cancers are born, grow to up to half a cubic millimeter in size, and then wait for an opportunity to expand. “We call these dormant cancers,” says Li. “They can sit there for years, or even decades, without ever becoming harmful.”

Hijacking the Body’s Controls

Twenty-five years ago, Li did his research training in the lab of Dr. Judah Folkman. If that name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason; Folkman was a pioneer in the field of cancer research, and his theory of the role of angiogenesis in tumor development forever changed cancer treatment.

Angiogenesis is a big word for a simple concept: it’s the process through which our bodies create new blood vessels. In normal, healthy individuals, new blood vessels grow only under specific circumstances: as part of the healing process for an injury, for instance, or during pregnancy. Our bodies contain a natural system of checks and balances to regulate the growth of blood vessels, known to scientists as angiogenesis stimulators and inhibitors. “The stimulators act as natural fertilizers to get vessels to grow, and the inhibitors prune back extra vessels when they’re no longer needed,” Li explains.

Without blood vessels to supply them with the nutrients necessary for expansion, microscopic cancers have nothing to do and nowhere to go. But as cancer cells mutate, they can hijack the body’s system of checks and balances, using angiogenesis stimulators to create the blood supply they need. A microscopic tumor, given a steady influx of blood, can grow to up to 16,000 times its original size in as little as two weeks. And, of course, what goes in must come out; the blood feeding the tumor is circulated back through the body, now bearing cancer cells that can take up residence in distant organs, leading to metastasis. “This is the turnkey step that converts a harmless cancer into a deadly one,” says Li.

Folkman’s theory was that a growing tumor could be “starved to death,” so to speak, by cutting off its blood supply. Forty years ago, he presented his thesis in the New England Journal of Medicine and was met with skepticism, ridicule and dismissal. Today there are 12 antiangiogenic drugs on the market for cancer treatment, with 26 more in the final stages of human testing and another 100-plus behind them in human trials. Every major pharmaceutical company has an angiogenesis program, and the first FDA-approved antiangiogenic cancer drug, Avastin, is practically a household name.

The Preventive Approach

Li knows the power of antiangiogenic cancer therapy. But he also knows that the sooner a cancer is treated, the more likely a patient is to survive the disease. So why wait until the tumor has a blood supply to call its own? Why not prevent the tumor from ever getting past the microscopic phase? While we have no way to consistently and accurately detect microscopic cancers, we can boost our bodies’ natural ability to produce angiogenesis inhibitors. And we don’t need expensive pharmaceuticals or cutting-edge technology to do it.

Instead, we need red grapes. If you’re not crazy about red grapes, red wine will do the trick. Not a big drinker? Green tea works. If you like curry, you’ll be glad to hear that turmeric can help; if you’re a baker, ready that cinnamon shaker. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries; oranges, grapefruit and lemons; apples and pineapples; soy beans, kale and bok choy; garlic, tomatoes and olive oil—all these common foods are also weapons against the development of cancer. (Oh, and don’t forget dark chocolate. I know I won’t.)

“One of the limitations of antiangiogenic therapy today is that we’re primarily treating very advanced disease,” Li says. “So we started a research program looking at natural sources of angiogenesis inhibitors, and what we discovered is that Mother Nature has laced many foods and beverages with naturally occurring inhibitors.”

Research indicates that 75%-80% of cancers are caused in part by environmental factors, and about 30% of those are related to what you eat. New articles tell us that diets rich in red meat can result in an increased risk of prostate cancer, and for some time it was believed that consumption of soy increased women’s breast cancer risk (that notion has since been debunked). But Li doesn’t want to focus on what should be removed from our diets; instead, he wants to look at what we can add. “What are the naturally occurring sources we can add to our diets to boost our bodies’ defenses?” he says. “We’re giving patients a new tool to make the world a healthier—and tastier—place.”

And it’s not just food and drink. We can also “mine our medicine cabinets,” as Li puts it, in search of common medications that inhibit angiogenesis, such as aspirin. If you think we’re already aware of everything our boring old over-the-counter drugs can do, think again: in a recently published 30-year study of almost 5,000 women, aspirin was shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by a whopping 71%. As US News and World Report’s Dr. Bernadine Healy drily quipped, “Were these aspirin tablets a hot new biotech drug, we would be popping champagne right now.”

Big Ideas, Baby Steps

The question Li and his colleagues are asking is a provocative one: is it possible that the tools for cancer prevention are already all around us, in our gardens, our grocery stores, our farmers’ markets, our medicine cabinets? The concept of dietary cancer prevention exists in something of a vacuum: the food industry isn’t involved with cancer research, and pharmaceutical companies aren’t involved with food products. Li hopes to change all that, pairing his Angiogenesis Foundation with the Mario Batali Foundation and other partners to develop healthy—and delicious—foods for cancer prevention.

Once a food has been established as antiangiogenic, the next step is determining which strain or varietal of that food is the most potent. Li offers up the example of green tea, on which the Angiogenesis Foundation has done some research. Out of four different commercially available green teas, Li and colleagues determined that Chinese jasmine and Japanese sencha were the most potent, and a blend of the two was even more potent than either alone. “What we need to do now is systematically test and compare potencies between different products,” Li says. “If you’re selecting strawberries or wine, you want to know the most potent types.”

Of course I do. But in the meantime, I’ll derive plenty of solace from the fact that those berries and that delicious beverage are promoting my overall health in ways I never imagined possible. As Li puts it, “Drugs are prescribed by doctors, but what happens in between the times you see your doctor? There has been a huge gap in the research when it comes to arming patients with their own tools. We want to shift the paradigm away from relying only on the doctor by putting information in the hands of the patient, and a major part of that shift is changing how we think about food.”

Foods that Fight Cancer by Cat Vask

(Article from


Nowadays, the technological atmosphere we live in and pressures from pharmaceutical industry make difficult to focus on natural medicines and their properties.

I find this article interesting because we usually forget about the importance of a healthy diet and the useful nutrients food is made of.  It seems as if you are not prescribing drugs or doing complicated tests, you are not providing help to your patient, which is not true.

Prevention is a potent tool in any illness, so this should be the first step of treatment. If we manage to persuade patients how important it is we will save time and money in the future, as well as we will gain health. William Li stands for prevention based on anti-angiogenesis, which is specially attractive when we are talking about cancer.

I would like to know what you think about this way of prevention, and if it should be used in hospitals in case of patients with and without cancer.

Also I highly recommend you to watch the following video where William Li explains how to prevent cancer by eating:


Vocabulary that may help you:

To hijack: to seize, divert, or appropriate (a vehicle or the goods it carries) while in transit: to hijack an aircraft

To boost: to increase or raise

Solace: something that gives comfort or consolation

Dismissal: the act of dismissing or the condition of being dismissed. (*to dismiss: to cease to consider (a subject))



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11 respuestas a Foods that Fight Cancer

  1. Belén Leal Mora dijo:

    The author of this text is trying to explain the importance of having a healthy diet due to prevent as far as possible the growth of cancer disease. He reaffirms the idea of the great dissemination of cancer across the world, and the existence of microscopic tumors that remain silently in one of our body’s organs and that patients are not aware of it. So, as Dr. William Li points out, one of the most important issue in cancer disease, although it is not the only one, is the tumor’ size and that those which are small ones usually are not very noxious.

    Then, the main question of cancer researchers is how to avert the tumor development, and the answer they have found is based on the confirmed hypothesis that if we try to prevent the angiogenesis process, the bloody supply which is necessary for the growth and expansion of the cancer, these tiny tumors won’t be able to go anywhere. Current anti-angiogenic therapies, like treatments as Bevazizumab (brand name Avastin) act as reducing activation of the angiogenesis pathway, thus inhibiting new blood vessel formation in tumors. So, by stopping the growth of blood vessels, scientists hope to cut the means by which tumors can nourish themselves and thus metastazing.

    Moreover, to contribute some interesting information in relation with this anti-angiogenic drugs, in addition to their use as anti-cancer drugs, angiogenesis inhibitors are being investigated for their use as anti-obesity agents, as blood vessels in adipose tissue never fully mature, and are thus destroyed by angiogenesis inhibitors.

    Nevertheles, in spite of their therapeutic potential, they also bring disasters when used inappropriately. The pharmaceutical thalidomide, for example, is such an antiangiogenic agent. When pregnant women take an antiangiogenic agent, the developing fetus will not form blood vessels properly, thereby preventing the proper development of fetal limbs and circulatory systems. In the past years, lots of children in different countries were born with deformities.

    Another problem related to these treatments, as it is written in the text, is that if they are not used in primary stages of cancer disease, angiogenesis inhibitors are not as powerful as they can actually be. This is the reason that some research workers started to look for other possible therapies against these bloody supplies, and at least they found that life conditions are able to modify the development of cancer disease: eating nutritionally varied food, most of them fruits and vegetables, vegetable fiber, drinking a lot of water and some kind of teas, like green tea, doing sport regularly, avoiding stressing ways of life and some other factors can prevent us from suffering an advanced stage of cancer disease. On the other hand, there are also some factors that can aggravate this process, like nicotine poisoning, alcoholism, sedentary lifestyle and others. So it is need to act before contracting any disease, and if it is the case, in early stages of cancer, as well as at the beginning of other diseases.

    To conclude, as Dr. Li says in the text, people must be aware of the importance of having a healthy life to prevent the development of different diseases like cancer and other important ones. Prevention is a perfect weapon against the development of any disease, so as Iris (my classmate) has suggested, this should be the first step of its treatment.

  2. SANDRA dijo:

    Prevention is known as “actions directed to preventing illness and promoting health to reduce the need for secondary or tertiary health care”.
    Each illness has its own risk factors. Although most of them are common in more than one disease, there are some of them which are more specific for one or another. So it would be great for the patients to know them and also what they are able to do to prevent them. If patients knew the importance of prevention and how they could avoid some illness following some steps, maybe they would do their best about that (it also depends on the person and its health’s responsibility).
    Referring to the article above, one way of prevention is by the food. People should have a food education, and if they didn’t have it, the doctor should show them it (at least all he or she knew about it).
    I think that using food, or what it is made of, to prevent or to fight the cancer is a good supplementary treatment; I mean, if we certainly know that there is a type of food which is capable to fight the cancer with the same power and effect as a drug, why shouldn’t doctors prescribe it? This could be useful for patients who don’t have cancer and those who have it. Moreover, food is a source of easy access and cheaper than other drugs. So finally, prescribing some kind of food as a way of prevention in patients with cancer or not may be useful because it would mean much more benefits for the health of people; and everything related to improve the health in suitable conditions is always welcomed.


  3. BELÉN dijo:

    I find this article very interesting. It is proven that many types of cancer are related to ambiental factors as diet, smoking or exercise. Knowing which kind of food help us to prevent diseases will make my meals healthier, and as Dr. Li says, it doesn’t mean good food can’t be delicious! Also I like how Dr. Li tries to change the stigma of cancer: most of the people see this illness as painful and mortal, but it isn’t always like that. More than the 50% of tumors can be cured.

    The main idea in this extract, with which I agree completely, is the control on our bodies. During many centuries, health was only due to doctors and priests, in a paternalistic point of view. If you felt sick, the only thing you could do was going to the doctor and trusting completely in his skills, or praying if everything went wrong. Nowadays we know that before that step, you can prevent many physical problems with a healthy style of life. Of course not all, but many diseases that generate great monetary cost to the healthcare system like diabetes, obesity, strokes, etc. When you’re ill the modern medicine is essential, but before that you may help yourself avoiding harmful factors as for example the excess of sugar or cholesterol.

    I should conclude with this last words: I really think that convincing people of the fact that their health is theirs and they can direct their own way of taking care of it, is possible.



    Nowadays cancer is the main cause of dead, and an amount of money is spent on research and to try to cure people with this desease, so I find promising what Dr Li says.
    In Medicine, it’s more important to prevent than to cure, so it’s great that without spending money, only by forbiding some food and recomending other, we could stop cancer appear or even to progress. It sounds simply but it works. In addition, this discovery arrives in the middle of an economic crisis, so it’s not only good for health but also to economy so that we can save up some money.
    Another thing that has surprised me is the fact that almost everyone has malignant cells in his/her body, this idea frightens. When we hear about “malignant” cells we uncounsciously think in dead. In this article Dr Li tries to explain that this is not true, and that a healthy style of live is the best weapon we can fight with against cancer.
    Finally I found this article really interesting; as some people are enjoying themselves, others are researching and founding solutions to keep people’s live healthy.

  5. ingleslleida dijo:

    Nowadays cancer is the main cause of dead, and an amount of money is spent on research and to try to cure people with this desease, so I find promising what Dr Li says.
    In Medicine, it’s more important to prevent than to cure, so it’s great that without spending money, only by forbiding some food and recomending other, we could stop cancer appear or even to progress. It sounds simply but it works. In addition, this discovery arrives in the middle of an economic crisis, so it’s not only good for health but also to economy so that we can save up some money.
    Another thing that has surprised me is the fact that almost everyone has malignant cells in his/her body, this idea frightens. When we hear about “malignant” cells we uncounsciously think in dead. In this article Dr Li tries to explain that this is not true, and that a healthy style of live is the best weapon we can fight with against cancer.
    Finally I found this article really interesting; as some people are enjoying themselves, others are researching and founding solutions to keep people’s live healthy.

  6. Ana Narbona dijo:

    Even though many other diseases may have worse prognosis than most cases of cancer, cancer is the subject of widespread fear and taboos. To make matters worse, global cancer rates have been increasing in the last years, which also raise the discomfort this sickness means to the society. We know that the increased in rates is due to lifestyle changes in developing world. Therefore acting on lifestyle is an indispensable tool in the fight against cancer and sure diet is an important part of lifestyle. In my opinion the proposal by Dr. Li is a very efficient way to act against cancer. One of the most important characteristic for a measure to become accepted as health primary prevention is efficiency-This means achieving a goal at the lower cost. By just adding to our diets some food that seems to act against angiogenesis, we may retard the natural process of a tumor development. I found this measure cheap and simple and at the same time very suitable to what prevention is.


    For years we have known that a good weight, a good diet and exercise can help men and women keep their hearts healthy and also cancer. Now, emerging science is telling us, as this article, that weight, diet and exercise play a crucial role in protecting us against cancer, too. Indded, there are lifestyle changes we have the power to make that will improve our odds against this disease.

    So if it konws that some foods actually can increase our risk of cancer, while others support our body and strengthen our inmune system, why we don´t prevent? I think the answer is that we don´t konw the importance of prevention. So it should have more education about food. This is cheaper way than others drugs that doctors prescription.

    On the other hand, I think choosing healthy food is not the only important factor. It also matters how we prepare and store our food. The way we cook our food can either help or hurt your anti-cancer efforts.
    For example, eat at least some raw fruits and vegetables; when we cook vegetables, steam until just tender using a small amount of water; wash all fruits and vegetables…

    Finally, I think diet is very important in our life. And prevention is a perfect weapon to avoid some diseases and it´s also very cheap way.


    In my opinion, I think that this article and all that Dr. Li says are really interesting. There is a long list of important and common types of cancer that are related to food. Although food is not the only cause of cancer, it is very important factor. Tobacco is the main environmental factor that contributes to the development of many cancers and an unhealthy diet is in second place.
    Many times, we focus on the use of drugs to treat cancer and performing different procedures to get an early diagnosis and we forget the importance of diet in the prevention of this disease.
    It is likely that dietary changes recommended are difficult to carry out, but I think that with proper, serious and truthful information it would be easier to convince people of the usefulness of these measures for cancer prevention trough healthier and varied eating. Mediterranean diet is a good example of it.
    Maybe, as soon as we have more knowledge and research on this, it may improve these recommendations.


  9. Carolina Pérez Benito dijo:

    The human body is continuously using a ‘push-pull’ balance of cellular functions. When the body is destabilized occurs what we all know as ‘cancer’.
    Nature has created various foods that fight the factors causing the destabilization. It is proven that eating these foods help the body to not produce cancer.
    There is evidence that those who know the properties of these foods and are more aware of health which reduces the risk of cancer.
    Risk factors are also snuff and various environmental factors.
    Dr. Li says that the most important is to change the idea that everyone has on the word cancer. That would be the first step.
    As future physicians we must come to know if our patients know and are aware of the benefits of these foods and convey appropriate knowledge.

  10. CRISTINA dijo:

    This article is very interesting because talks about a very prevalent theme nowadays: the cancer. In the last time, there is an increased incidence of this disease and I think that all the investigations and new discoveries related to cancer are very important.
    In the past, cancer was a terrible disease and people was scared about it. But the last advances have increased the survival of this disease. However, there are a lot of mechanisms that aren´t known and they have to be investigated, but I hope that in a near future we will have a complete solution for this disease
    I found very interesting the fact to know how the cancer cells works, and how we can fight against them using specific drugs and as the article said , using certain foods. This last discovery surprised me a lot, because the fact that aliments, like chocolate, can interfere in the mechanism of cancer cells is a good advantage and can help us to prevent this disease.
    Prevention is an important measure to reduce the prevalence of cancer and I think that it´s very important to advise people about the advantage of having a good life style. It´s easy for us to have good habits and it supposes a better quality of life and a reduction of the probability of having important diseases, like cancer.
    In my opinion, it´s better to prevent than to cure, and we have to realise that sometimes, the decision of having a good health is in our hands.


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