Ketogenic Diet (Keto) – Does It Work As A Cancer Treatment?

The ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate diet. The keto diet has been shown to have certain health benefits, such as being an effective treatment for people with diabetes.

Today, some research suggests that it may also have antitumor effects. Therefore, it is considered a possible treatment for certain types of cancer. However, the relationship is not as simple as it seems.

This article describes the effects of the ketogenic diet against cancer and simplifies the results of the latest research to date.

Ketogenic diet and cancer

Cancer is a significant public health problem worldwide. Although the war against cancer is fought with the latest technologies, improvements in treatments are still needed.

Several studies suggest that the ketogenic diet is a promising method to attack these metabolic alterations in tumor cells.

Recent research shows that the ketogenic diet has a limiting effect on tumor growth, protects healthy cells from chemotherapy or radiation damage, accelerates chemotherapy toxicity toward cancer cells, and reduces inflammation (3,4,5).

Also, compared to anticancer drugs and standard treatments, the ketogenic diet is cheaper, reasonably easy to implement, and well-tolerated. (1)

The cancer-fighting effects of the ketogenic diet appear to be because, in cancer cells, most of the energy comes from glucose.

Increased glycolysis and decreased activity of the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and OXPHOS are among the hallmarks of cancer.

Glucose is not available on the ketogenic diet, so that cancer cells may have a more challenging time multiplying.

The keto diet has antitumor effects in certain types of cancer.

The effects of the ketogenic diet do not apply to all types of cancer.

Results from preclinical studies, although sometimes contradictory, tend to support an antitumor effect for most solid cancers.

However, although pro-tumor effects are rare, they cannot be ruled out.

In the following graph, you can see the effects of the ketogenic diet on the different types of cancer:

As can be seen from the graph, generalizing is not a good idea in these cases. For some types of cancer, such as colon cancer, most studies state that it can have antitumor effects, but it could be counterproductive for others, such as kidneys.

While the ketogenic diet could be used as a complementary cancer therapy, it largely depends on the type of tumor and its genetic alterations.

Keto Diet: Could Red Meats and Sausages Increase Your Chance of Cancer?

The World Health Organization has classified processed meat products: sausages, cold cuts, salami; as type 1 carcinogens. In other words, they increase your chance of getting cancer. (7)

There is enough evidence to avoid these foods when on the ketogenic diet. Just 50 grams of cold cuts and hot dogs a day are enough to increase the risk of heart disease by 42%. As well as raising the chances of colon and stomach cancer.

According to the WHO, diets rich in red meat could be responsible for 50,000 cancer deaths a year worldwide. (7)

This is one of the reasons the term clean keto and dirty keto has come up.


  • The ketogenic diet has potential effects to be used to treat certain types of cancer.
  • However, it does not apply to all types of cancer, and more studies are needed to verify its actual anticancer effects.
  • What can be said is that it is recommended that red meats and sausages are not the main ingredients when doing the keto diet. These foods could increase the risk of cancer.
  • Your doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian who has special training in cancer nutrition. The ketogenic diet may be one of the options available as a treatment, but it is not a replacement for traditional cancer therapy such as chemotherapy or radiation.


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