“What about diet?” A qualitative study of cancer survivors’ views on diet and cancer and their sources of information

Beeken, R.J. et al. (2016) European Journal of Cancer Care. 25(5). pp. 774–783

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Given the abundance of misreporting about diet and cancer in the media and online, cancer survivors are at risk of misinformation. The aim of this study was to explore cancer survivors’ beliefs about diet quality and cancer, the impact on their behaviour and sources of information. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with adult cancer survivors in the United Kingdom who had been diagnosed with any cancer in adulthood and were not currently receiving treatment (n = 19).

Interviews were analysed using Thematic Analysis. Emergent themes highlighted that participants were aware of diet affecting risk for the development of cancer, but were less clear about its role in recurrence. Nonetheless, their cancer diagnosis appeared to be a prompt for dietary change; predominantly to promote general health. Changes were generally consistent with healthy eating recommendations, although dietary supplements and other non-evidence-based actions were mentioned. Participants reported that they had not generally received professional advice about diet and were keen to know more, but were often unsure about information from other sources.

The views of our participants suggest cancer survivors would welcome guidance from health professionals. Advice that provides clear recommendations, and which emphasises the benefits of healthy eating for overall well-being, may be particularly well-received.

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