A Mediterranean diet, containing mono-and polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts and fish, polyphenols and fibre from vegetables, fruit, and wholegrains, was significantly associated with an improved response to immunotherapy drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs).
ICIs, which have been highly successful in treating the skin cancer melanoma, work by blocking immune system checkpoints, which then force the body’s own immune T-cells to attack cancers.
The new multi-centre study by researchers from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, recorded the dietary intake of 91 patients with advanced melanoma, who were treated with ICI drugs, and monitored their progress with regular radiographic response check-ups.
As well as having a significant association with overall response rate, a Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with progression-free survival at 12 months.
Laura Bolte, study author and PhD candidate under Professor Dr Rinse Weersma from the University Medical Center Groningen, Netherlands, commented: “ICI has helped to revolutionise the treatment of different types of advanced cancers.
“Our study underlines the importance of dietary assessment in cancer patients starting ICI treatment, and supports a role for dietary strategies to improve patient outcomes and survival.”
The study also found that eating wholegrains and legumes reduced the likelihood of developing drug-induced immune-related side effects, such as colitis.
In contrast, red and processed meat was associated with a higher probability of immune-related side effects.
“The relationship of ICI response with diet and the gut microbiome opens a promising and exciting future to enhance treatment responses.
“Clinical trials investigating the effect of a high-fibre diet, ketogenic diet and supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids are underway.
“Since ICI therapy is being expanded to various tumour types, including digestive cancers, these studies could unlock treatment benefits for a large group of cancer patients in the future,” Bolte added.