Diet and cancer prevention: A review of Italian studies

Carlo La Vecchia, Liliane Chatenoud, Andrea Altieri

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Current scientific evidence suggests a protective role for fruits and vegetables in prevention of most common epithelial cancer including digestive and major non-digestive neoplasm. The relation between frequency of consumption of vegetables and fruit and cancer risk was analyzed using data from a series of case-control studies conducted in Northern Italy since 1983. For digestive tract cancer, population attributable risks for low intake of vegetables and fruit ranged between 15 and 40%. A selected number of anti-oxidants showed a significant inverse relation with breast and colorectal cancer risk. Red meat intake confirmed to be of specific relevance in nutritional etiology of human cancer with a relative risk (RR) far consistently above unity. Whole grain food intake was consistently related to reduced risk of several types of cancer, with a particular relevance for the upper digestive tract neoplasm. Epidemiological evidence on the relation between fiber intake and colorectal cancer have reported a moderate protection, but results are limited and inconsistent. Thus, we investigated the specific role of fibers on colorectal carcinogenesis in a case control study including 1,953 cases of colorectal cancer and 4,154 controls. Results provided further support for a protective and independent effect of fiber on colorectal cancer, particularly for cellulose and soluble non-cellulosic polysaccharides (NCP), and for fiber of vegetable or fruit origin. In contrast, refined grain intake has been associated to increased risk of different types of cancer. In conclusion, a low risk diet for cancer would imply increasing fruit and vegetables, avoiding increasing meat, but also refined carbohydrate consumption, and preferring olive oil and other unsaturated fats to saturated ones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Medicine, Biology and the Environment
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Cancer prevention
  • Diet
  • Epidemiology
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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