Your Diet and Oral Cancer: Here Are the Top Three Foods for Prevention

Approximately 90% of patients with oral cancer have a history of smoking or chewing tobacco. Therefore, not starting or quitting tobacco greatly reduces your risk of developing oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer.  You can also make diet changes to fight the disease. Nutrition plays a crucial role in prevention. Here are the top three foods to help prevent oral cancer. 

  1. Fruits high in carotenoids 

Carotenoids are responsible for the vibrant yellow, red, and orange pigments in fruits and vegetables. The most common carotenoids are alpha carotene, beta carotene, lutein, beta- cryptoxanthin, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids act as antioxidants, protect the cells from free radical damage, and boost the body’s immune system. Some carotenoids, such as beta carotene, convert into vitamin A which destroys cancerous cells. Vitamin A, also called retinoic acid or retinol, is vital for healthy cell division, growth, and reproduction. 

Fruits highest in carotenoids include oranges, avocado, mangoes, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and watermelon. When choosing fruits, look for the ones that have the most vibrant colors – the richer the color, the higher the carotenoids. 

  1. Cruciferous vegetables 

Cruciferous vegetables contain glucosinolates, which are sulfur and nitrogen-containing compounds. These chemicals are responsible for the characteristically intense flavor of cruciferous vegetables. Glucosinolates also convert into cancer-fighting compounds. When you consume cruciferous vegetables the glucosinolates break down into indoles and isothiocyanates which help the body fight inflammation. Research suggests that compounds in cruciferous vegetables slow down tumor growth, suppress tumors, and promote cancer cells to self-destruct. Cruciferous vegetables are also rich sources of fiber. 

These include brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, collard greens, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and kale. Ensure the green leaves are fresh to gain the most cancer-fighting benefits. To retain glucosinolate content, as well as folate and vitamin C, it’s best to sauté, stir-fry, or steam the vegetables. The nutritional value of cruciferous vegetables can be cut by half if boiled in water. 

  1. Green tea 

There’s much research surrounding green tea and its ability to kill oral cancer cells and prevent oral carcinoma. The preventive nature of green tea lies in its polyphenol content, which has been found to stimulate death in cancer cells without impacting non-cancerous cells. Researchers focused their studies on the compound epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which triggers a cycle of damage in cancer cells and boosts the defense mechanism in healthy cells to protect against mouth and throat cancer. 

As with all foods, there are harmful effects of overconsumption. Green tea does contain caffeine, and drinking it in excess can result in caffeine overdose. For most, drinking three cups of green tea a day is healthy and safe. Green tea can also be used as a mouthwash and good oral hygiene is a preventive measure against oral cancer.  

For more on reducing your risk for oral cancer, contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology.  

At Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology, more than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.