Consuming simple carbohydrates may increase risk of recurrence among patients with head and neck cancer, according to a study published by the International Journal of Cancer
. New findings suggest that a patient’s diet could have a significant impact on their ability to combat cancer.
The authors also suggest that patients who moderately consume fats and starches after treatment, such as whole grains, potatoes, and legumes, are less likely to have a recurrence of head and neck cancer, according to the study.
The study followed more than 400 patients for 26 months after their initial diagnoses of squamous cell carcinoma on the head or neck. Most of the patients were treated for oral cancer or oropharyngeal cancer, including cancers of the tonsils, tongue, and surrounding tissue, according to the study.
Patients were most often diagnosed in stage 3 or 4 of cancer at an average age of 61 years old. During the study, cancer recurred 17% of the time, resulting in 42 deaths. Another 70 patients died from other causes during the study.
The researchers examined all food, drink, and dietary supplements consumed by the participants for 1 year prior to treatment and 1 year after treatment, according to the authors.
The authors found that those who consumed the least amount of simple carbohydrates, such as refined grains, desserts, and sweetened beverages, were having 1.3 servings per day, while those who consumed the most were consuming 4.4 servings of simple carbohydrates.
Patients who consumed a high amount of carbohydrates—such as sucrose, fructose, lactose, and maltose—prior to treatment were at a higher risk of mortality than those who consumed less carbohydrates, according to the authors.
While carbohydrate intake may be linked to mortality rate among patients, the associations varied by cancer type and stage, the authors noted. Those with oral cavity cancer were found to have a greater risk of mortality due to a high carbohydrate intake, while those with oropharyngeal cancer were not affected by their carbohydrate intake, according to the findings.
A high carbohydrate intake was also found to be associated with an increased risk of mortality among patients with cancer in stages 1 to 3, while those with stage 4 cancers were not at an increased risk.
The authors noted that moderate consumption of fats and starchy foods—about 67 grams per day—can lower the risk of recurrence and mortality.
The authors also suggest that while there is a clear association among carbohydrate intake and risk of mortality, more research needs to be done to determine whether there is a direct relationship.
"Although in this study we found that higher total carbohydrate and total sugar were associated with higher mortality in head and neck cancer patients, because of the study design we can't say that there's a definitive cause-effect relationship," Anna Arthur, PhD, MPH, RD, lead author, said in a press release.
The findings of this study suggest that diet plays an important role in treating cancer and prompts further research on the relationship between diet and cancer.
"Our results, along with the findings of other studies, suggest that diet composition can affect cancer outcomes," Amy M. Goss, PhD, RD, co-author, said in the press release. "We'd like to determine if this is true using a prospective, intervention study design and identify the underlying mechanisms. For example, how does cutting back on sugar and other dietary sources of glucose affect cancer growth?"
Arthur AE, Goss AM, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Higher carbohydrate intake is associated with increased risk of all-cause and disease-specific mortality in head and neck cancer patients: Results from a prospective cohort study. International Journal of Cancer.
2018. DOI: 10.1002/ijc.31413
Study explores carbohydrates’ impact on head, neck cancers [news release]. University of Illinois’ website. https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/638053
. Accessed April 13, 2018.