10th January 2020

Better screening, diagnosis and treatments mean that for many patients today, cancer can become a chronic ongoing illness that requires long term management. The number of cancer survivors worldwide is increasing dramatically, and it is forecast that this number will exceed 70 million by 2050.

In recent years, research has started to look at the importance of a healthy lifestyle after cancer treatment.

Thousands of websites, books, blogs, articles and experts exist, giving advice on how to eat both during cancer treatment and afterwards. Recent trends — from juicing and veganism to the Ketogenic diet — have all been marketed towards cancer patients and survivors.

However, as Dr Aoife Ryan, a registered dietitian and lecturer in Nutritional Sciences at UCC points out, none of these diets have a solid evidence base and many are experimental, meaning there is a lot of misleading nutritional advice for cancer survivors out there.

Dr Ryan is co-author with Dr Éadaoin Ní Bhuachalla of a new free evidence-based cookbook for cancer survivors called Healthy Eating for Cancer Survivors which has been launched by University College Cork (UCC), in conjunction with Breakthrough Cancer Research (BCR), in response to the many ‘fad’ diets currently being pushed on cancer patients.

The new book, which is available in hospitals across Ireland, is a sequel to their successful and award-winning cancer cookbooks which have been helping those fighting the disease to maintain their weight. The new book is targeted towards those who are finished cancer treatment and have been told by their doctors to follow a healthy eating diet.

Healthy Eating for Cancer Survivors contains the latest information from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) report from 2018, which includes the most reliable information from all of the scientific studies published by the organisation and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The book is endorsed by the Irish Society of Medical Oncology, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism and the National Cancer Control Programme.

The recommendations for healthy lifestyle choices are explained in lay language within the book which includes a collection of delicious healthy recipes for meals and snacks suitable for all the family. The evidence shows that following these recommendations may improve the chances of longer-term survival after a cancer diagnosis.

“For those who are lucky enough to be cured of cancer, there was a gap in reliable evidence-based information which was being filled by non-experts including chefs, bloggers and cancer survivors advocating diets like the Ketogenic diet, blood type diets and juice diets, or to avoid dairy or go vegan. Our aim with this book was to cut through all the confusing noise out there and provide the best advice on healthy eating for cancer survivors who want to improve their chances of long-term survival and in some cases, lose weight.”

Dr Ryan points out that the recipes are not extravagant and are low in fat, salt and sugar and high in fibre, vegetables and wholegrains. They are suitable for the general population including children, not just cancer survivors, and for people with diabetes and heart disease.

“For cancer survivors who do not have problems with weight loss or with their appetite or food intake, a healthy eating diet might be the most appropriate plan. If you have completed your cancer treatment and been told that you are in remission, it is best to eat a healthy diet, keep physically active and try to maintain a healthy body weight,” she says.

It is recommended that all patients diagnosed with cancer receive advice from a registered health care professional (preferably from a registered dietitian with experience in oncology, or to talk to their oncologist or cancer specialist nurse) on what diet best suits their diagnosis and personal needs.

The book notes: “There is scientific evidence that certain lifestyle factors can help to reduce the risk of developing a new cancer and the risk of a cancer coming back. Unfortunately no change can reduce your risk totally or guarantee a cancer-free life. There are people who do everything ‘right’ and still develop cancer. There are people who make all of the recommended changes after a cancer diagnosis and unfortunately their disease may still return despite this. However, there are things you can do to help you be as healthy as possible.”

20,000 free copies of Healthy Eating for Cancer Survivors are available through the dietetic departments of Irish hospitals, or by contacting