Diet and Skin Cancer

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

Although non-melanoma skin cancer is the most prevalent malignant disease among light-skinned individuals, accounting for approximately one million new cases annually in the U.S., few people realize it is so closely related to poor diet. Cancers of all types can grow only when cells that undergo free radical damage and the resultant DNA breakage are not repaired by the cell’s DNA monitoring and repair equipment. High-nutrient foods supply us with thousands of protective micronutrients that enable these cellular defenses.

If your diet is low in vegetables, seeds, beans, and fruits, you are not getting enough of the micronutrients your cells need. Nutrients penetrate every cell in the body and are needed in every cell in our body, including your skin cells. When you eat a high-nutrient diet, you get the antioxidant nutrients and other free radical fighters you need to oppose the free radicals produced by exposure to the sun and to enable cellular repair mechanisms to fix any damage that may occur.

A diet rich in vegetables, both raw and cooked, gives you an added layer of protection against skin cancer, just as it does with other cancers. Green vegetables, especially green cruciferous vegetables, are the most protective against cancer in general, and skin cancer is no exception.

Researchers analyzed the consumption of 38 food groups to identify dietary patterns in 1,360 adults, aged 25-75 years old, who participated in a community-based skin cancer study in Nambour, Australia, from 1992-2002. They obtained baseline information about diet, skin color, and sun exposure factors. Two major dietary patterns were identified: a meat and fat pattern and a vegetable and fruit pattern. The meat and fat pattern was positively associated with development of skin cancer, and even more strongly associated in participants with a skin cancer history. A higher consumption of the vegetable and fruit dietary pattern appeared to decrease skin cancer occurrence by 54%, with the protective effect mostly attributed to the consumption of green leafy vegetables.

The researchers concluded that a dietary pattern characterized by high meat and fat intakes increases skin cancer incidence, while dietary pattern characterized by higher consumption of green vegetables decreases it.1


1. Ibiebele TI, van der Pols JC, Hughes MC, et al. “Dietary pattern in association with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: a prospective study.” Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 85(5):1401-8.


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