Fasting and cancer: molecular mechanisms and clinical application

The vulnerability of cancer cells to nutrient deprivation and their dependency on specific metabolites are emerging hallmarks of cancer.

Fasting or fasting- mimicking diets (FMDs) lead to wide alterations in growth factors and in metabolite levels, generating environments that can reduce the capability of cancer cells to adapt and survive and thus improving the effects of cancer therapies.

In addition, fasting or FMDs increase resistance to chemotherapy in normal but not cancer cells and promote regeneration in normal tissues, which could help prevent detrimental and potentially life- threatening side effects of treatments.

While fasting is hardly tolerated by patients, both animal and clinical studies show that cycles of low- calorie FMDs are feasible and overall safe.

Several clinical trials evaluating the effect of fasting or FMDs on treatment- emergent adverse events and on efficacy outcomes are ongoing.

We propose that the combination of FMDs with chemotherapy, immunotherapy or other treatments represents a potentially promising strategy to increase treatment efficacy, prevent resistance acquisition and reduce side effects.

Alessio Nencioni, Irene Caffa, Salvatore Cortellino and Valter D. Longo
Nature Reviews - Cancer volume 18, November 2018