Do vegans ever get cancer?

Yes, and Steve Jobs was one of them—but not all vegans are equal.

If you do an internet search, you will find a wide range of opinion and a great deal of confusion on this subject. The problem is with the definition of the terms vegetarian and vegan. They mean different things to different people.

The word vegan only partially explains what a person is “not” eating—and does very little when it comes to clarifying what someone is eating. Just avoiding all animal products is not necessarily going to afford you with much protection against cancer or any other chronic disease. The key is deriving more and more of your calories from the healthiest of foods—whole plants: lots of greens, legumes, vegetables, grains, fruits, nuts and seeds.

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While mainstream sources like Dr. William Sears (see link below) strongly endorse a mostly plant-based diet, there are many other sources who disagree. Here’s an excerpt from the Dr. Sears website:

Are vegetarians really healthier in the long-run? Absolutely, positively, yes! Even though nutritionists seem to disagree on many topics, all agree that plant-eaters and fish-eaters tend to live longer and healthier lives than do animal eaters. In every way, the brocolli-munchers tend to be healthier than the beef-eaters:

Vegetarians have a lower incidence of cancer, especially colon, stomach, mouth, esophagus, lung, prostate, bladder, and breast cancers. The protection against intestinal cancers is probably due to the fiber in a plant-based diet.

Dr. Sears goes on to quote a number of large studies that back up his claims about vegetarians being healthier overall, including a lower risk of cancer. So the answer is yes, some vegans get cancer—but less frequently than do the meat-eaters. We all know that Steve Jobs (self-described vegan) died of pancreatic cancer but we don’t know what version of the vegan diet he followed. 

Sadly Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer; you can read a lot more about his situation on the earlier blog with a link provided above.

My observation is that most vegans and vegetarians eat far too much processed foods, they consume too much fat and sugar, and they regularly consume vegetable oil.

And even though they may be consuming zero animal products, they’re deriving less than 20% of their calories from whole, plant-based foods–still in nature’s package. I doubt that many of them consume enough whole, plant-based foods to afford them much protection against chronic disease.

On the other hand, there are a number of cultures in the world that have a near zero incidence of cancer—or any other chronic disease. And unlike the typical “vegetarian” in the USA, they all derive the vast majority of their calories from whole plant-based foods—just like someone who eats at the 4Leaf level on our scale. We featured five of these peoples in our book: Abkasians, Vilcabamba, Hunza, Papua Highlanders and finally, the Tarahumara of Mexico.

Survey Image jpg How HealthyWhen I administer our 4Leaf Survey at vegetarian gatherings, I routinely see vegans who are getting less than ten percent of their calories from whole plants.

They’re eating too much processed foods, too much bread and pasta, too much sugar and too much oil. Whereas, by including more whole plants in their diet, they may give themselves the best possible chance of completely avoiding all chronic deceases.

As Dr. Sears said:

In fact, vegetarians have a lower incidence of nearly all intestinal diseases and discomforts, especially constipation and diverticulosis. The phytonutrients in plant foods, especially antioxidants, flavanoids, and carotenoids, may also contribute to protection against cancer.

On the Dr. Sears website: 12 Frequently Asked Questions About the Vegetarian Diet

The bottom line. Since our “mainstream” system still does not tell us exactly how we can prevent, slow, stop or reverse chronic disease, we must all decide for ourselves. My preference is well-documented on this site and follows the mountain of scientific and clinical evidence for a whole foods, plant-based diet. Dr. Campbell, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. Barnard, Dr. McDougall and others make it very clear in the Forks Over Knives movie and in their books.

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Why should we be eating mostly plants? The “big picture” in 4 minutes.

Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Survey. It takes 2 or 3 minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member since 2012; click banner for more info:

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About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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17 Responses to Do vegans ever get cancer?

  1. Leo S. says:

    This should be the video on The Starch Solution:

  2. Chris says:

    Didn’t Steve Jobs adopt a vegan diet in an attempt to reverse the cancer . And died. Which is different to a long term vegan getting cancer.

  3. TheOne says:

    Good luck convincing the Atkins clan that getting rid of meat and increasing starches and grains is how you lose weight and have more energy – their waistlines and success stories simply won’t concur! I, myself, have felt better and noticed tremendous results (lost weight, more energy, better PMS to name a few) when I cut out grains, beans, sugary foods, and highly processed, refined, chemical-laden crap that is supposed to resemble foods. When I read actual studies regarding this subject it’s never as conclusive as most people reporting the study would have you believe. How accurately is the info being reported by study participants? What kind of meat were they eating? Was it from CAFO animals? Grass-fed or grain-fed? Was their consumption of beef limited to “beef products” like burgers, tacos, hot dogs, mcdonalds steak bagel, etc.? The first commentor hit the nail on the head – you cannot lump all meat eaters in the same category just as some of you vegans/vegetarians don’t want to be lumped in with the sickly folk and junk food eaters in your camp. I know vegans and vegetarians who are fat, infertile, constipated, suffer from fibroids, diabetes, stay sick, look pale and sickly, don’t get their period, have hormone issues – they are not all the gleaming picture of health that most would assume they would be based solely off of their choice to exclude meat. There is no direct cause-effect link that shows meat is bad – over consumption of sick, nasty, highly processed and chemical laden meat, yes. Meat in general and as a whole – no.

  4. Susan Walker says:

    Dr. Doug Graham, The 80/10/10 Diet, is the ultimate in plant based nutrition!

    By the way, Steve Jobs, by his own admission, was not entirely vegan.

  5. Mhikl Hez says:

    The problems come about in how comparisons are made. Meat eaters seem to be lumped together when there are as many different kinds of meat eaters as there are different kinds of vegetarians and vegans.
    Take the paleo group who do not eat junk and processed food whatsoever. There are even the raw paleo diners. Both may or may not have extreme high fat intakes whilst others may have the majority of their calories from animal fats, and following far behind, animal protein, and further behind carbohydrates that are usually based on low carb vegetables. Lumping Junk eating meat eaters in with conscientious meat eaters does not give a full and true picture any more than lumping junk eating vegetarians together would.
    With honest comparisons, one wonders how the many varied diets come out in the healthy and longevity rankings?
    Be open minded. Do not assume that only one diet (yours) will suffice for everyone. Do your research, listen to your body, constantly question your prejudices and you might be lucky to hit upon the diet that is best for you body’s health.
    Those that pound on that their diet is the only one that is healthy are often angry people and anger is not healthy and supportive of health and longevity.

  6. Larry Jones says:

    Have been on Hallelujah Diet and Lifestyle ( for over 6.5 years. Was diagnosed with aggressive cancer in September, 2005. Did not go traditional treatment route; feel great now. Wife had lupus for 15 years before the diet–diagnosed lupus free after adopting this high-nutrition, plant-based diet.

    • jmorrishicks says:

      Larry, Thanks for your comment. While reading Dr. McDougall’s new book today, I realize that there are many very effective variations of a whole foods, plant-based diet. I figure that we can learn from all the different approaches and then choose the one that meets our needs and one that we can easily continue for the rest of our lives. Best, Jim

  7. Linda201 says:

    Michelle – Great comments. I, too, believe Dr. Fuhrman has done the most extensive research, and his emphasis on eating nutrient-dense foods simply makes the most sense.

  8. brenda exline says:

    I follow Dr. McDougall for the very same reason. You can stay with his plan and never feel hungry but get the nutrients you need. I am also a big fan of Dr. Esselstyn’s and Dr. Barnard. Dr. Furhman comes in last for me. Maybe Michelle should read The Starch Solution and I do believe that Dr. McDougall’s eating plan is far superior to Dr. Furhman’s. I guess it is just personal preference and what your body is telling you. My body is telling me I am thinner, with a lot more energy without being hungry. Oh and at 65 I taken no medications. Not even aspirin.

    • jmorrishicks says:

      Brenda, Like you, I feel so blessed to have discovered the health-promoting miracles of plant-based eating. At age 67, I also take no medications and never go to any doctor unless I have an accident. As for Fuhrman vs. McDougall. Let’s just say they both make good points—and they both reverse disease and promote health. The rest is up to the individual to choose everything else. Let’s face it, a “4Leaf Lifestyle” has an infinite number of variations. Best, Jim

  9. Leo S. says:

    Here is a link to pancreatic cancer and diet.

    • Leo S. says:

      It is suggested young girls get the HPV vaccination (Gardasil) and also that young boys do so. What if ingestion of ceratin foods could be a problem? Males should find this link interesting. It shows what a change in foods can do. Some ethnic groups also experience less incidence of HPV. Some still find it hard to link consumption of food to disease.

  10. John Benjamin Sciarra says:

    Hi Jim,

    I haven’t seen any extensive information on stevia sweeteners. The data I have found indicates that stevia doesn’t cause an isulin spike, but no one has placed it in the category of the “evil” sweeteners such as aspertame, dextrose, sucrolose, etc. What have you heard?


    • jmorrishicks says:

      Hi John, Since I don’t use any sweeteners, I have never looked into them. When you eat 4Leaf long enough, your taste buds change and you begin to appreciate the natural sweetness in fruit. As for sweetener in your coffee, a co-worker told me over thirty years ago that if I drank it black for just one month, I would never want to use sugar again. He was right. Best, Jim

  11. Michelle says:

    IMHO, you should be emphasizing Dr. Joel Fuhrman far more than Dr. John McDougall. Both men advocate a plant-based diet but Dr. Fuhrman emphasizes eating plant foods that are highest in phytonutrients: green vegetables, especially leafy greens, other vegetables, fruits, legumes, raw nuts and seeds in moderation. Dr. McDougall emphasizes a starch-based plant food diet. Dr. Fuhrman maintains (and backs his views with footnotes on all the scientific studies used to arrive at his conclusions) that starches, in general, especially white potatoes and grains, are much lower in nutrient density than other plant foods. So, Dr. Fuhrman advocates eating only small amounts of low nutrient starches and filling up on higher nutrient plant foods, especially green vegetables. Dr. Fuhrman’s emphasis on eating nutrient dense foods for disease prevention in contrast to Dr. McDougall’s emphasis on eating a starch based diet illustrates a profound difference in their respective approach to eating for health and longevity. There are other differences between the two men, such as their advise on salt intake, but the empasis on nutrient dense foods rather than starchy plant foods makes Dr. Fuhrman’s guidelines far superior.

    • jmorrishicks says:

      Hi Michelle, I am very familiar with Dr. Fuhrman and in fact was working with him when he was designing the ANDI food-scoring system that is now being used at Whole Foods Market. I have learned a great deal from both of these pioneering MDs and prefer to focus on their “common ground” instead of their differences. They both believe in maximizing your percent of calories from whole plant-based foods, which is what our 4Leaf Program is all about.

      In my case, I started out trying to eat closer to Fuhrman’s model but found that I would get too hungry between meals. After gradually adding more grains and legumes, I now believe that I have reached the proper balance for my body. And I thank all of those pioneering MDs for showing me the way. Best, Jim

      PS: I am reading Dr. McDougall’s new book, “The Starch Solution” now and will write a review on it later.

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