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You Can't 'Starve' Cancer, But You Might Help Treat It With Food

There is no single “cancer diet.”

Cancer cells grow in distinctive patterns that defy normal limitations.

That growth activity requires energy, and so cancer cells metabolize nutrients in different ways from the healthy cells around them. In an attempt to kill the tumor without killing the normally functioning cells, chemotherapy drugs target these pathways inside of cancer cells. This is notoriously difficult, expensive, and prone to toxic side effects that account for much of the suffering associated with the disease.

Now doctors are starting to think more about specific nutrients that feed tumor cells. That is, how what we eat affects how cancers grow—and whether there are ways to potentially “starve” cancer cells without leaving a person undernourished, or even hungry.

“For a long time, the prevailing thought was that altered metabolism in cancer cells was the result of genes and mutations that determined metabolism,” says Jason Locasale, a cancer biologist at Duke University. “Now, as we know, it’s a complex interaction of environment and genes, and one of the major factors at play is nutrition.”

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