If you have or have had breast cancer, you probably want to know what you can eat that might lower your risk of the cancer progressing or returning. Fortunately, breast cancer is one of the most researched types of cancer – examining the relationship between breast cancer, diet, and nutrition therapy. Research has shown there are diet patterns and foods you can select that might be helpful.
Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) provided clinical evidence that a healthy diet can make a difference for cancer patients and survivors. Women who followed a balanced diet that was low in fat and included daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and unrefined grains, had a 21% lower risk of death from breast cancer than women who followed a high-fat diet. Two new studies – both partially funded by AICR (The American Institute for Cancer Research) – suggest breast cancer survivors’ diets help them live longer. The research yields important results, whereas previous results were inconclusive. They found that overall, breast cancer survivors who eat a diet high in vegetables and low in fruit juice and highly processed carbohydrates have a lower risk of dying.
The first study, published in Cancer Research, focused on fruit juices along with fruit and vegetable intake. When Farvid and her colleagues analyzed their findings, it was the overall vegetable intake that appeared to drive the survival link with the greatest affect pointing to cruciferous (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts) and green leafy vegetables.
The second paper was published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. It focused on the type and amount of carbohydrates that breast cancer survivors consumed. Those who consumed a more highly processed carbohydrate diet were at an increased risk of dying from breast cancer compared to those who ate minimally processed carbohydrate diets. This adds to the potential beneficial role of fiber in breast cancer survival. Taken together, the research suggests that women diagnosed with breast cancer may benefit from eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and minimally processed starchy vegetables. This advice is consistent with AICR’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations that apply to cancer survivors too.” Here is where you can read more about the research on breast cancer survival.
In my practice as a New York registered dietitian nutritionist, I translate the research into practical applications. The emphasis of medical nutrition therapy to reduce the risk of breast cancer coming back is on dietary patterns, not specific foods, or nutrients. And it is not just about you shouldn’t be eating. It is as, if not more important, to focus on what you should be eating. By concentrating on the positive (what to do), my patients can customize a healthy eating plan to their personal preferences and lifestyles.
In practical terms, the pattern I recommend to most cancer patients and survivors is a Whole Food Plant Based Flexitarian Food Plan.
What to do:
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, chicken, and fish.
- Eat less refined sugars, fats, red meats, and processed meats.
Research has also shown that attaining and sustaining your optimal weight, with medical nutrition therapy counseling, is more important than ever after breast cancer treatment. Findings suggest that being overweight or obese raises the risk of breast cancer coming back. It has also been linked with a higher risk of getting lymphedema, as well as a higher risk of dying from breast cancer. The connection between a healthy diet and a positive health outcome is too important to disregard. Even changing everyday eating habits in your diet and lifestyle can go a long way! The key is to build a healthy eating pattern, which means choosing a variety of nutritious foods in the right amounts for you — and making these choices part of your everyday routine.
- Endeavor (Moffit Cancer Center)
- American Cancer Society
- Castro-Espin C, Agudo A. The Role of Diet in Prognosis among Cancer Survivors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Dietary Patterns and Diet Interventions. Nutrients. 2022 Jan 14;14(2):348. doi: 10.3390/nu14020348. PMID: 35057525; PMCID: PMC8779048.