Inflammation and Cancer

Evidence of the ability of inflammation to both initiate and fuel cancer has been accumulating since at least the 1980s. In fact, any chronic inflammatory disease – such as arthritis, bronchitis, fasciitis, colitis, and asthma – can increase the risk of cancer. A study published in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology demonstrated that patients with high blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and serum amyloid A (SAA) were two to three times more likely to die prematurely or have their cancer return than patients with lower levels.


These markers indicate the presence of inflammation in the body. While acute inflammation is a healthy immune system response, chronic inflammation is not. Inflammation is one of the mechanisms that initiate the cascade of molecular events that lead to cancer and promote the growth of existing tumors. If a cellular mutation is the spark that lights the malignant fire, then inflammation is the fuel that keeps the fire growing. In general, the higher your CRP levels, the more unfavorable your prognosis. Indeed, in advanced cancers, CRP levels are often the most reliable indicator of prognosis, particularly with colorectal, lung, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

The converse is also true: controlling inflammation can reduce the risk of, and decrease the aggressiveness of cancer. Most, if not all patients, are dealing with high levels of inflammatory biochemicals that are produced by malignancies, and increased by surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. At the Block Center, we measure and monitor the inflammation levels of all of our patients. Patients are encouraged to make lifestyle and dietary changes that can significantly minimize other sources of inflammation. In fact, adjusting fat intake is one of the most important ways to control inflammation. Inflammatory mediators are triggered by eating too many omega-6s and too few omega-3s. To decrease omega-6s, avoid beef, milk, cheese, pork, egg yolks, and poultry, as well as corn, safflower and sunflower oil. To boost omega 3s, eat salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines, as well as plenty of green leafy vegetables; use only canola (organic or non-GMO), olive, walnut and flaxseed oils.

Because refined carbs and other high glycemic-index foods are directly related to blood levels of C- reactive protein, the diet detailed and recommended in Dr. Block’s book, Life Over Cancer, emphasizes whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit. Artichokes, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, parsley and zucchini are especially good anti-inflammatory vegetables; eat brightly colored fruits like cherries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries.

I also suggest avoiding the following:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption, especially hard liquor
  • Unhealthy high-flame or high-heat cooking methods like charcoal grilling and deep frying
  • Indoor and outdoor pollution — use nontoxic cleaning agents (avoid oven cleaners in particular) and have plenty of air-filtering houseplants
  • Sleep deficit — sleeping less than four hours a night for ten nights straight can make levels of C-reactive protein soar.
  • Extreme exercise – the aches and pains from “weekend warrior” syndrome are not natural or healthy; they are indications of inflammation.

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