No, cancer patients don’t need to give up chocolate

    8 December 2016

    Cancer patients should avoid chocolate, according to Daily Mail Online. ‘Ingredient found to make tumours spread around the body — making the disease more deadly,’ it said.

    The study, published in Nature, did not exactly reach this conclusion. It found that an ingredient in palm oil (which is in foods ranging from chocolate to ice cream to biscuits) stimulates a protein called CD36, which is believed to play a role in how tumours metastasise, or spread around the body.

    The researchers also found that standard dietary fats, which make up as much as 35 per cent of a ‘Western pattern diet’, stimulate the protein too, thus fuelling the spread of cancer.

    But the research was conducted on mice. Ernst Lengyel, a gynaecological oncologist, told Nature that advising patients to avoid fatty foods was a ‘very dangerous message’.

    During the study, the researchers found the protein in cell samples taken from cancer patients. To test the theory that CD36 enables metastisation, mice were given cancer and then fed either a high- or low-fat diet. All of those exposed to CD36 in a fatty diet developed metastasis. In those that were not exposed, only half experienced metastasis.

    The researchers were able to demonstrate that blocking the protein prevented metastasis in all cases.

    Although research on mice can provide valuable medical insights, their physiology is completely different to ours. Clinical trials would be required to establish whether or not the protein has the same function in humans.

    The researchers are now seeking to develop CD36-blocking treatments that would work in humans.

    Instant analysis
    The fact that this study is based on mice who have been injected with human mouth cancer means that so far it has little or no clinical value to people. Although it would be interesting to do more research on this with respect to cancer in humans, modifying dietary advice based on this study would be totally irresponsible.
    Media score: 1/5