Cancer and diet: Why is nutrition overlooked?

It’s THE question we’ve all asked ourselves and our doctors at some point in this “journey,” I’m sure. But let’s start at the beginning…

Sheila Dillon, BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme Presenter, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2011. She had chemo etc. And yesterday the BBC published an article she wrote about cancer and diet, which I thought was absolutely spot on:

Ms. Dillon makes some excellent points…points that most certainly we have all wondered about at one time or another, as I said earlier. Namely, why do our doctors dismiss diet and possible dietary changes right off the bat? Why do they roll their eyes when we mention curcumin and other scientifically-backed, myeloma-killing, natural extracts? And why oh why (!) are myeloma patients undergoing chemo offered absolute crap food such as, and I quote from the above-mentioned article, “a white bread sandwich, a fizzy drink, and a chocolate bar or packet of biscuits.” You’ve got to be kidding me…

It’s maddening. Absolutely maddening. 

Ms. Dillon also mentions curcumin (and other things, such as resveratrol). By the way, when you read “turmeric” in this article, think: “curcumin.” I really wish these two words were NOT used interchangeably, but it happens a lot, even though there’s a HUGE difference between the two: one is the spice (turmeric), the other is its active ingredient (curcumin).

And what we myeloma folks need is CURCUMIN, NOT TURMERIC.

Curcumin is the stuff that’s been tested on myeloma, in vitro and in vivo, including human clinical trials. Okay, ’nuff said. Let’s keep going…

Here’s an important excerpt from the article: “Our research confirmed that in most cancer centres in the UK, diet is still seen as almost meaningless in cancer treatment and aftercare. 

Yet there is good science available on the subject, though not a lot of it is what medics call “gold standard” science. 

There are almost no double-blinded, large scale, studies done on people because they are expensive, very hard to do and there is no financial incentive.

Who would make serious profit out of the discovery that mushrooms kill cancer cells?”


But the picture isn’t totally bleak: we, the patients, can CHANGE things (the status quo, that is). How? By telling our doctors about our research, our diet, the supplements we may be taking, etc. When I first began taking curcumin, more than seven years ago, very few people knew what it was. When I mentioned the word “curcumin,” all I’d get would be blank stares. But now, even our myeloma specialists know of its existence (case in point: a couple of years ago, at a patient-doctor meeting here in Florence, I spoke with Dr. Morie Gertz, of the Mayo Clinic, about curcumin, and he told me that several of his patients take it). They may still roll their eyes and say it won’t help, but hey, they know about it. That’s a big improvement…and I don’t get as many “eye rolls” as I used to! 😉 . So my final point is: things CAN change…but only if WE change ’em…and change we must, for our own health!!!

P.S. Another really good article that I read yesterday was titled “How doctors die”: In a nutshell, the article explains why doctors don’t die like the rest of us. Illuminating…A must-read for everyone…Highly recommended! 

(Too bad there was no mention of diet, food, supplements, etc., but I suppose I’m asking for too much…!)


  1. I think you are right on, in general. It took 4 years, but the specialist is now actuallly on board with curcumin. She also mentioned meditation. But devils advocate that I am, I’ll throw out one suggesed time when diet means nothing – post SCT days 1 through maybe 25. Then, hydration and calories can be from anything the patient can tolerate. Just resetting the body’s abilitiy to digest food is the goal, and many things are out of bounds due to fears of infection/germs, so even junk food is A-okay. Otherwise, nutrition is medicine. Definitely!

  2. I totally agree with Margaret and we need to push for more information. I have sent this message to the Royal Marsden, Sutton UK and placed it on the Myeloma UK blog site.

    I’m struggling to get “official” approval to Curcumin – i’ve raised the reasons why on a seperate blog on this site.

    “I would like to share this with you and I’d be interested to know if your hospital promotes / gives advice on “good” diet and nutrician and what sort of advice they are giving.

    Quote from Myeloma UK “Diet and nutrition for cancer patients has, unfortunately, been a neglected topic”.

    My interest was triggered off by this Article and podcast

    BBC Food – Cancer and diet: Why is nutrition overlooked?

    Article By Sheila Dillon
    Presenter, Radio 4’s Food Programme

    “..I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma (MM), a cancer of the bone marrow, in December 2011.

    At every chemo session I was offered a white bread sandwich, a fizzy drink, and a chocolate bar or packet of biscuits.

    Nurses told me that there was no point in worrying about what I ate. “Worrying” is not what I or any other patient wants to do…”

    click here if you’d like to read more…
    Listen to Radio 4’s Food Programme on Food, Cancer and Well-being on Sunday 19 May at 12:32 BST or catch up on iPlayer

    I dropped a note to the Myeloma UK helpline and this was their response.

    “We were involved in the recent edition of the Radio 4 Food Programme on Diet & Nutrition and Cancer you mention as Eric Low, our Chief Executive was a contributor on the programme.

    Diet and nutrition for cancer patients has, unfortunately, been a neglected topic. We and others are very aware that is an important issue for patients and hope to bring it more wider attention, particularly with healthcare professionals. We are currently developing Nurse educational programmes and one of the tutorials is on Diet and Nutrition. We also have an article on diet and nutrition in the latest issue of Myeloma Matters, our newsletter for patients…”

    I too feel that diet and nutrition for cancer patients is a neglected area I’m being treated at the Marsden, Sutton under Professor Gareth Morgan. We typically get offered white / brown bread sandwich, concetrated fruit juice drinks, packet of biscuits, tea/coffee, low fat yogurts and fruit. there is little / no information visible on notice boards, leaflets on diet / nutrician (which is surprising given that it is a centre of excellence)

    As a result, I have spent many hours surfing the net / reading books (and getting confused!) about what type of foods (ie eating more anti-imflammatory, low carbs, reducing processed foods, increasing Omega 3) ) that I should be changing/ including as part of my diet.

    You may be interested in reading in this blog.”

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