New Research: Eating Less Fat Reduces Risk of This Unexpected Cancer

Updated: May 10, 2024

This cancer is usually associated with a riskier habit—but new research pinpoints a curious link to diet, too.

Low-fat diets reached their peak popularity in the ‘80s and ’90s, but new research has seen an increasing emphasis on good fats, like that found in olive oil and avocados, to promote overall health. The science of nutrition has effectively shifted from an “all fat is bad” mentality to choosing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats over saturated.

However, there are some cases when a low-fat diet is warranted and even perhaps protective against diseases such as breast cancer. New research even suggests breast cancer isn’t the only cancer that can be kept at bay with dietary adjustments. 

A study that will be published in the July 2024 issues of The Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging by researchers associated with the Chongqing Medical University in China, aimed to determine if a low-fat diet could also reduce the risk of lung cancer. They used data from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial which sought to determine the effects of screening for cancers over a large population. Approximately 98,459 people with an average age of 65 met the requirement for inclusion from the larger PLCO study in the current study. The participants had all completed a detailed food questionnaire and had never been diagnosed with cancer. They were followed up after an average of eight years for cancer incidence. 

Those who adhered best to the low-fat diet, which is considered 30% or less of the diet, had the lowest rate of lung cancer. Not surprisingly, those who smoked were more likely to develop lung cancer, and this group also saw the most benefit from adopting a low-fat diet.

The type of fat mattered as well. Those who reported consuming more saturated fat were more likely to develop lung cancer than those who included monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat in their diets. “Overall, our study underscores the potential role of dietary patterns, specifically low-fat diet (LFD), in reducing the risk of lung cancer, while emphasizing the need for further research to validate these findings and inform public health interventions,” said researchers.

People who would like to reduce their risk of lung cancer shouldn’t rely on a low-fat diet alone for protection. The first step for smokers is quitting smoking, which is the highest risk factor for the world’s deadliest cancer. If you smoke, it is wise to eat a low-fat diet that emphasizes healthier fats and to work with your healthcare provider on a cessation plan. If you don’t smoke, speak with a healthcare professional about adopting the right diet for your health goals.