GMOs and Cancer: Separating Fact from Myth


One of the most talked about kinds of food recently has GMOs, which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms.  You may be seeing foods in the grocery store labeled ‘Non GMO’ and be wondering, “Should I know what this means?” “Should I be avoiding GMOs?”  There is a lot of misinformation and fear in the media around this type of food, especially for those looking to reduce cancer and disease risk.  Let’s separate fact from fiction to learn to make informed decisions. 

What is a GMO?

Human beings have been breeding animals and plants for selected traits for thousands of years.  Our ancestors picked the fastest horses, kindest dogs, and biggest tomatoes and bred them to ensure those traits would be passed down.  This manual process takes generations, and isn’t precise.  A genetically modified organism may also be referred to as a bioengineed organism, which accurately represents this process: biological engineering.  This modern ‘breeding’, which is currently used mainly in plants, tweaks or selects genes to make sure they are passed down to new plants.  These changes imbue plants with traits such as drought-resistance, can extremes temperature tolerance, or bugs and pests resistance.  

GMOs are part of the reason why our food system can support such a large population – less damage to plants means higher crop yields and longer shelf lives.  GMOs are part of the reason why there aren’t food shortages during the winter or when a new blight is found in a certain crop.  

What connection is there with GMOs, cancer and other disease?

There is suspicion that since a GMO product has its genes or DNA modified, that this would have a downstream effect on the consumer’s DNA.  Cancer is defined by unwelcome DNA changes, so the concern would be valid if true.  However, over decades of study in the United States, Canada and the European Union no evidence has shown any health risks to intake of GMO foods.  They have also not been linked to any auto-immune diseases like Celiac disease, and there is no link to autism that has been found.

Another concern consumers may have is that some plants are genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides used to control weeds in crop fields.  Farmers would then be free to use more herbicides, and one of the most common is RoundUp or glyphosate.  The International Agency on Cancer Research does classify glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic,’ in the same risk category as burning wood and work exposure as a hairdresser.  Interestingly, alcohol is classified as ‘definitely carcinogenic’ and yet many adults consume alcohol regularly without thought to its cancer causing risk.  An oncology dietitian did the math, and determined that  ‘dietary exposure to all pesticide residues poses a risk equal to drinking one glass of wine every three months.’   It is nearly impossible to have zero pesticide exposure in our food system, and consumers need to make educated decisions about what risks to reduce. 

Bottom Line

We may not have definitive proof that GMOs do not harm human health, but the decades of evidence we have does not suggest any link to disease or cancer risk.  Consumers should feel safe eating from our food system, and if they want to avoid GMO products that is their individual choice.  Starting in January 2022, GMO products will be required to be labelled as such.  Organic products are also not allowed to contain any GMO products, so by choosing organic you would always be eating non-GMO.  At the end of the day, we know that a healthful, anti-cancer lifestyle avoids stress, smoking, alcohol and weight gain and includes regular exercise and lots of brightly colored fruits and veggies, whether they are GMO or not. 

Still have questions about GMOs and what it means for your cancer and disease risk? Join our community at OncoPower and a Registered Dietitian will be happy to assist you will maximizing your health at any stage in your cancer journey. Providing support for cancer patients is what we do! 

Onboard your practice or institution today!

Begin offering a comprehensive digital experience for your patients.