Researchers have warned that a high-fat junk food diet has been proven to fuel the progress of prostate cancer, making the disease more deadly than it would be in patients who eat a healthier diet.

The research was conducted by scientists at McGill University in Canada and published in the journal Nature Communications.

Specific genes known as oncogenes play a role in starting and fuelling cancer. One of these genes is the “MYC” gene.

The link between diet and cancer development was first established over 100 years ago but lifestyle-related data tends to be sparsely collected among patients.

The new study therefore looked at the fat intakes of 319 prostate cancer, patients dividing them into those on high-fat diets as opposed to low-fat diets — and then further by the type of fat they were eating — whether saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat.

By examining the diets and gene behaviour data from the 319 patients, researchers discovered that animal fat and specifically saturated fat consumption was linked to “overexpression” of the MYC gene.

They then validated these findings — using mice, the researchers were able to show that dietary changes (cutting out meats and saturated fats) slowed prostate cancer and increased the chances of survival.

In contrast, high-fat diets fuelled cancer progression in patients, meaning that who had the highest level of the saturated fat intake were four times more likely to die from prostate cancer, compared to patients with the lowest level, independent of the patient’s age or year at diagnosis. The effect was pronounced even after adjusting for the obesity of the patient.

Dr David Labbé of McGill University said, “Knowing the dietary pattern of a patient or his level of physical activity, clinicians could eventually suggest some specific intervention to decrease the likelihood of progression to a lethal disease. But in order to do that, more research is needed.”

Last reviewed 10 December 2019