Background: A healthy diet can contribute not only to development of cancer but also to longer-term outcomes, including risk of recurrence. However, little is known about cancer survivors’ beliefs about diet. Given the abundance of misreporting about diet and cancer in the media and online, cancer survivors are at risk of misinformation.
Aim: To explore cancer survivors’ beliefs about diet, the impact on their behaviour, and sources of information.
Methods: Semi-structured interviews (n=19) were conducted with adult cancer survivors in the UK who had been diagnosed with any cancer in adulthood and were not currently receiving treatment. Participants were recruited from an online forum and posters at a cancer centre. Interviews were analysed using Thematic Analysis.
Results: Most participants were aware that diet affects risk of developing cancer, but were less clear about its role in recurrence. Nonetheless, their diagnosis appeared to be a strong motivator for dietary change; but predominantly to promote general health. Dietary changes were generally consistent with recommendations, although dietary supplements were mentioned by several participants. Few participants had received professional advice about diet, and some had received conflicting recommendations. All participants were keen to know more. Several had sought other sources, with charities seen as helpful and trustworthy. Many had obtained information from internet and media sources, although they were cautious about its value.
Conclusions: Cancer survivors tended to hold beliefs about diet that were in line with recommendations except for some misconceptions about the role of dietary supplements. They felt unclear of the role of diet in disease recurrence and wanted more advice. When dietary information is not provided by health professionals, cancer survivors may turn to less reliable sources. There is scope for health professionals to provide consistent guidance and to direct patients to reputable sources of information on diet and survivorship.