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Protein intake: a comprehensive report


Nutrition plays a crucial role in both the prevention of cancer and the support of individuals undergoing cancer treatment. Protein intake is essential when fighting cancer due to its crucial role in supporting various physiological functions and promoting overall health. It is important to note that the choice of protein should align with individual preferences, dietary restrictions, and health conditions. Many patients with cancer do not meet the recommended intake and not even the one for healthy individuals.


A well-balanced and nutrient-rich diet can contribute to overall health and may have specific benefits in preventing cancer and supporting individuals through the challenges of cancer treatment. A robust immune system is essential in preventing the development and progression of cancer. A healthy digestive system may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, particularly those of the colon and rectum. Also, chronic inflammation is linked to an increased risk of cancer, and a diet that helps manage inflammation may be beneficial in prevention. Additionally, adequate nutrition is crucial in managing weight and preventing muscle loss during cancer treatment. Maintaining a healthy weight and muscle mass can positively impact treatment outcomes and overall well-being.

Protein intake is essential when fighting cancer due to its crucial role in supporting various physiological functions and promoting overall health. It is a fundamental building block for tissues in the body. During cancer treatment, the body may undergo stress, and protein is needed for the repair and maintenance of damaged tissues. Cancer and its treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, can lead to muscle wasting (cachexia). So, adequate protein intake helps preserve muscle mass, which is vital for strength, mobility, and overall physical function. In situations where individuals may experience reduced appetite or weight loss, protein can serve as an important source of energy. It becomes especially critical when the body is breaking down muscle for energy. Additionally, proteins are involved in the production of red and white blood cells, contributing to a healthy blood supply and immune function. This is important, as some cancer treatments can affect blood cell production. And finally, protein helps facilitate the absorption of other essential nutrients, such as iron and zinc, which are important for overall health and immune function. Choosing the best kinds of protein becomes crucial in this context.

Kinds of Protein

One of the highly recommended types of protein during cancer treatment is whey protein. Derived from milk, whey is a complete protein source, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids required by the body. Its high-quality protein profile is easily digestible, providing a readily available source of amino acids for cellular repair and regeneration. Whey protein has been recognized for its ability to enhance immune function, a critical aspect of cancer treatment as it supports the body’s defence against infections and contributes to overall well-being.

Casein is also derived from milk, however, forms a gel-like substance in the stomach, leading to a slower release of amino acids into the bloodstream. This sustained release makes casein an excellent choice for providing a steady supply of amino acids over an extended period, such as between meals or before bedtime.

Egg white protein is a high-quality protein source that is fat-free and cholesterol-free. It is a complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids. Egg white protein can be a suitable option for those looking to avoid dairy or plant-based proteins.

Plant-based proteins, such as pea or soy protein, also play a significant role in the fight against cancer. These protein sources offer an alternative for individuals with dietary restrictions, including those following vegetarian or vegan diets. Rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and fibre, plant-based proteins contribute to a well-rounded and health-supportive diet. Additionally, they may have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial in managing inflammation often associated with cancer and its treatments.

Brown rice protein is also a plant-based protein alternative suitable for those with soy or dairy allergies. It is not a complete protein on its own but can be combined with other protein sources to achieve a complete amino acid profile.

Hemp protein is derived from hemp seeds and is a plant-based source of protein. It contains all essential amino acids and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp protein is easily digestible and suitable for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Quinoa is a versatile pseudo-grain that contains all essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It also provides complex carbohydrates, fibre, and various vitamins and minerals, contributing to overall nutrition.

Algae protein, derived from algae like spirulina or chlorella, is a plant-based protein option too. It is a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Algae protein supplements may also contain additional nutrients like chlorophyll and antioxidants.

Collagen protein is gaining attention for its potential role in supporting skin, joint, and connective tissue health. While not a complete protein, collagen provides specific amino acids that contribute to the body’s structural integrity. This can be particularly beneficial during cancer treatment when maintaining healthy tissues becomes paramount.

Medical nutrition drinks, specially formulated to meet the unique nutritional needs of individuals undergoing cancer treatment, are another valuable source of protein. These drinks often contain a blend of proteins, vitamins, and minerals designed to support overall nutrition, prevent malnutrition, and manage treatment side effects.

Guidelines for protein intake / balanced diet that reduces the risk of cancer and promotes health while in therapy

According to ESPEN, 2021 protein intake should be above 1.2 g/kg/day and, if possible, up to 1.5 g/kg/day, compared to 0.8 g/kg/day which is recommended for healthy individuals. For older adults, most recent guidelines recommend >1.0 g/kg/day of protein. Many patients with cancer do not meet the recommended intake and not even the one for healthy individuals. Because of the adverse effects of therapy and the restricted diet of many patients, the American Institute for Cancer Research, American Cancer Society, and the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism—ESPEN, support the use of a multivitamin-multimineral supplement in doses close to the recommended dietary allowance. High doses of vitamins and minerals are discouraged in the absence of specific deficiencies. Vitamin D deficiency might be relevant in cancer. Also, an association has been reported between low vitamin D and muscle wasting. As a consequence, vitamin D may be needed to optimise protein supplements effectiveness. In light of the recent literature, vitamin D supplementation with 600–800 international units (RDA) in cancer patients can be beneficial in the context of preventing muscle wasting, but further research is needed.


Choosing the right protein source depends on individual’s dietary preferences, health considerations, and nutritional goals. Incorporating a variety of protein-rich foods into the diet might ensure a diverse array of essential nutrients and supports overall health and well-being.  

Thus, the best kinds of protein while preventing or fighting cancer are those that provide a diverse range of essential nutrients, support immune function, aid in tissue repair, and contribute to overall well-being. Whether derived from animal or plant sources, the selected proteins should align with individual health goals and complement the comprehensive care provided by medical professionals. A personalized and well-balanced diet that includes optimal protein intake can be a powerful ally in the fight against cancer, promoting strength, resilience, and improved quality of life.