Eating a diet higher in red and processed meat, high-fat dairy foods, and refined grains—ie, a Western diet—after a prostate cancer diagnosis, may lead to a significantly higher risk of both prostate cancer-related mortality and overall mortality compared with eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains, and healthy oils, according to a new study published in Cancer Prevention Research (2015; doi:10.1158/1940-6207).

The study offers insight on how diet may help improve survivorship for the nearly three million men living with prostate cancer in the United States.

“There is currently very little evidence to counsel men living with prostate cancer on how they can modify their lifestyle to improve survival. Our results suggest that a heart-healthy diet may benefit these men by specifically reducing their chances of dying of prostate cancer,” said senior author Jorge Chavarro, ScD, MD, ScM, assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Researchers examined health and diet data from 926 men participating in the Physicians’ Health Study I and II who received a diagnosis of prostate cancer. They followed the men for an average of 14 years after their diagnosis, grouping them into quartiles according to whether they followed a Western dietary pattern or a prudent (higher consumption of vegetables, fruits, fish, legumes, and whole grains) dietary pattern.

They found that men who ate mostly a Western diet (those in the highest quartile of the Western dietary pattern) had two-and-a-half times higher risk of prostate cancer-related death, with a 67% increased risk of death from any cause, than those in the lowest quartile. Men who ate mostly a prudent diet had a 36% lower risk of death from all causes.

“These results are encouraging and add to the scant literature on this area, but it is important to keep in mind that all study participants are physicians and most are white. Therefore it is very important that our results are replicated in other studies with more diverse socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds,” said lead author Meng Yang, PhD, research fellow at the Harvard Chan School.