a1 Department of Epidemiology and Cancer Registry, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Barcelona, Spain
a2 Human Nutrition Unit, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Rovira i Virgili University, Reus, Spain
Cancer is a disease that is characterized by the loss of genetic control over cell growth and proliferation, mainly as a result of the exposure to environmental factors. Cessation of smoking and a high consumption of fruits and vegetables are the most important means of reducing the risk of cancer in our society. Like fruits and vegetables, nuts are a source of vegetable protein, monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, phenolic compounds, selenium, vegetable fibre, folic acid and phytoestrogens. There are numerous mechanisms of action by which these components can intervene in the prevention of cancer, although they have not been fully elucidated. There are very few epidemiological studies analyzing the relationship between nuts consumption and risk of cancer. One of the greatest difficulties in interpreting the results is that the consumption of nuts, seeds and legumes are often presented together. The most commonly studied location is the colon/rectum, an organ in which the effect of nuts is biologically plausible. Although the results are not conclusive, a protective effect on colon and rectum cancer is possible. Likewise, some studies show a possible protective effect on prostate cancer, but there is insufficient data on other tumour locations. New epidemiological studies are required to clarify the possible effects of nuts on cancer, particularly prospective studies that make reliable and complete estimations of their consumption and which make it possible to analyse their effects independently of the consumption of legumes and seeds.