People who consume a variety of vegetables tend to have a lower risk of developing lung cancer compared to those who don’t, according to a study published in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The report adds that a variety of fruit and veggies might also help protect against squamous cell lung cancer, this is especially the case for regular smokers.

H. Bas Bueno-de-Mesquita, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., senior scientist and project director of cancer epidemiology at The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, The Netherlands, said:

Although quitting smoking is the most important preventive action in reducing lung cancer risk, consuming a mix of different types of fruit and vegetables may also reduce risk, independent of the amount, especially among smokers.

Bueno-de-Mesquita and team gathered data from the ongoing, multi-centered EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) study, including 452,187 individuals, of whom 1,613 had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

They obtained data on 14 popular fruits and 26 commonly eaten vegetables. The fruits and vegetables assessed in the EPIC study consisted of a wide range of fresh, canned or dried produce.

According to prior EPIC-study results, there was a link between the quantity of fruit and vegetable consumption and lower lung cancer risk, especially with regards to squamous cell carcinoma (a type of lung cancer) – smokers who ate a wide variety of fruits and veggies had a significantly lower risk, the authors wrote.

Variety of vegetables consumed was also linked to lower lung cancer risk, regardless of quantity. Squamous cell carcinoma risk was observed to drop dramatically for people who consumed a wide range of fruit and vegetables, the researchers reported.

However, Bueno-de-Mesquita said that they “cannot exclude that these results can still be explained by smoking.”

Bueno-de-Mesquita said:

Fruits and vegetables contain many different bioactive compounds, and it makes sense to assume that it is important that you not only eat the recommended amounts, but also consume a rich mix of these bioactive compounds by consuming a large variety.

Stephen Hecht, Ph.D., editorial board member for Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, says he believes this study is one of the first to evaluate variety of fruit and vegetable consumption, rather than quantity.

Hecht added:

The results are very interesting and demonstrate a protective effect in smokers. There are still over a billion smokers in the world, and many are addicted to nicotine and cannot stop in spite of their best efforts.

Tobacco smoke contains a complex mixture of cancer-causing agents. Therefore, a mixture of protective agents is needed to have any beneficial effect in reducing one’s chance of lung cancer.

Hecht stressed that avoiding tobacco in all its forms is the only proven way to reduce one’s risk for lung cancer.

“Variety in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and the Risk of Lung Cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition”
H. Bas Bueno-de-Mesquita, Martine M. Ros, Kim Overvad, Christina C. Dahm, Louise Hansen, Anne Tjønneland, Françoise Clavel-Chapelon, Marie-Christine Boutron-Ruault, Marina Touillaud, Rudolf Kaaks, Sabine Rohrmann, Heiner Boeing, Ute Nöthlings, Antonia Trichopoulou, Dimosthenis Zylis, Vardis Dilis, Domenico Palli, Sabina Sieri, Paolo Vineis, Rosario Tumino, Salvatore Panico, Petra H.M. Peeters, Carla H. van Gils, Eiliv Lund, Inger T. Gram, Tonje Braaten, María-José Sánchez, Antonio Agudo, Nerea Larrañaga, Eva Ardanaz, Carmen Navarro, Marcial V. Argüelles, Jonas Manjer, Elisabet Wirfält, Göran Hallmans, Torgny Rasmuson, Tim J. Key, Kay-Tee Khaw, Nick Wareham, Nadia Slimani, Anne-Claire Vergnaud, Wei W. Xun, Lambertus A.L.M. Kiemeney, Elio Riboli.
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 1055-9965.EPI-10-0489; Published OnlineFirst August 31, 2010; doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-10-0489

Written by Christian Nordqvist