Can Adhering to a Mediterranean Diet Reduce Mortality in Cancer Survivors?

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Cancer survivors who adhere to a Mediterranean diet may survive longer and have a reduced risk of cardiovascular-related mortality compared with those who had lower adherence to the diet, according to a recent study published by Bonaccio et al in JACC: CardioOncology.


The Mediterranean diet is known to offer health benefits even after a cancer diagnosis. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase in the coming years, possibly as a result of targeted and effective therapies. Therefore, it may be crucial to understand the extent to which a healthy diet can prolong survival.

“The beneficial role of the Mediterranean diet in primary prevention of some tumors is well known in the literature,” explained lead study author Marialaura Bonaccio, PhD, a co–principal investigator of the Joint Research Platform in the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the Institute for Research, Hospitalization, and Health Care (IRCCS) Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy. “However, little is known about the potential benefits that this dietary model can have for those who have already received a cancer diagnosis," she continued.

Study Methods and Results

As part of the UMBERTO Project, investigators examined the food consumption prior and outcomes of 800 adult patients residing in Italy who had been diagnosed with cancer at the time of their enrollment in the Moli-sani study between 2005 and 2010. They sought to evaluate the role of the Mediterranean diet in relation to mortality.

After a follow-up of 13 years, the investigators found that the patients who had high adherence to the Mediterranean diet had a 32% and 60% lower risk of all-cause and cardiovascular-related mortality, respectively, compared with those who did not follow the diet.


“These data support an interesting hypothesis that different chronic diseases such as tumors and [cardiovascular] disease actually share the same molecular mechanisms,” indicated coauthor Maria Benedetta Donati, MD, PhD, a principal investigator of the Joint Research Platform in the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the IRCCS Neuromed. “This is known in the literature as ‘common soil’—namely, a common ground from which these two groups of disorders originate,” she added.

“The Mediterranean diet is mostly composed of foods such as fruit, vegetables, and olive oil that are natural sources of antioxidant compounds—which could explain the advantage observed in terms of mortality not only from cancer, but also from cardiovascular disease that can be reduced by diets particularly rich in these bioactive compounds,” underscored Chiara Tonelli, President of the Scientific Committee of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. “The UMBERTO Project is therefore oriented to increase knowledge of the mechanisms, in order to clarify the benefits of this dietary model … for more vulnerable [patient] populations such as cancer survivors,” she concluded.

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