A new study conducted by Harvard University scientists suggests that prostate cancer survivors who follow a regular diet of white bread, cheese and red meat have a higher risk of seeing their cancer come back compared to patients who follow a healthy diet.

Dr. Jorge Chavarro, from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, led a team of researchers in investigating the effects of a "western" diet on the overall health of men with prostate cancer.

They analyzed the health and diet information of 926 men who were part of the Physician's Health Study and were diagnosed with prostate cancer that had not yet spread in their body.

The participants were given a set of questions regarding their diets about five years after they had been diagnosed with cancer. They were then observed for about 10 years.

Chavarro and his team discovered that patients who consumed a steady diet of refined grains, fat and processed meat were two-and-a-half-times more likely to die from causes related to their prostate cancer compared to those who ate more healthily.

Men who followed a western diet also experienced a 67 percent increased chance of dying from any cause, while those who consumed more fruits, vegetables, fish and beans in their diet were able to reduce death rates by 36 percent.

"There is currently very little evidence to counsel men living with prostate cancer on how they can modify their lifestyle to improve survival," Chavarro said.

"Our results suggest that a heart-healthy diet may benefit these men by specifically reducing their chances of dying of prostate cancer."

Lead author Dr. Meng Yang, also from the Harvard TH Chan School, explained that all the participants of the study were physicians and Caucasians.

"It is very important that our results are replicated in other studies with more diverse socio-economic and racial/ethnic backgrounds," Meng said.

Earlier studies have found that some types of food may be able to retard the growth of prostate cancer or reduce the likelihood of the disease returning, but these findings were not supported by enough evidence.

Food mentioned in these previous studies include lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, pomegranate juice, green tea and products based on soybeans.

Food sources rich in the mineral selenium, such as kidney, liver, fish and seafood, are also known to be beneficial to patients with prostate cancer.

The Harvard University study is published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

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