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The Breast Cancer Diet Connection – Food as Anti‑Cancer Agents

The relationship between cancer and nutrition is complex and multifactorial. Nutrition may play a major role in the development and progression of tumors, and conversely, not only may the neoplastic process have a detrimental effect on the nutritional status of the patient with breast cancer, but so too can the treatment modalities used to control the disease.

The nutrition management of the patient with breast cancer depends on the presence or absence of active disease, recent medical treatment, weight status, and nutrition status. The management of nutrition problems in the malnourished breast cancer patient is similar to that in other cancer patients. Obesity and weight gain, however, are more commonly seen and are a significant health risk among patients with localized breast cancer as well as those with advanced disease.

Since obesity and the risk for breast cancer increase with age, interventions that encourage weight control may influence cancer survival rates. Furthermore, obesity (25% or more over optimal weight for height) is a significant prognostic factor for those with the disease. Obesity is associated with increased estrogen production secondary to increased peripheral aromatization (i.e., the production of estrogen in fat cells). Consequently, the estrogen-sensitive tissues of obese women are exposed to more stimulation than those tissues in leaner women. The effect is significant because ovaries no longer contribute to the production of estrogen. The prognosis for these women is adversely affected by obesity. Weight gain may also be one of the most distressing side effects since it may significantly affect their self-esteem when it is superimposed on a change in body image due to the loss of a breast and/or other toxicities associated with breast cancer therapy. Because of the high frequency of weight gain, its psychological impact, and its associated health risk, efforts to control obesity and weight gain are strongly recommended.

The exciting news is that what you eat may interfere with the many stages of the cancer process. Evidence continues to mount indicating that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of phytochemicals (chemicals synthesized by plants) that may slow down, stop, or even reverse cancer development. More specifically, foods that can interfere with the metabolism and absorption of estrogen may present a unique mechanism to discourage breast cancer. Other mechanisms include inactivation of mutagens and carcinogens, increased excretion of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, scavenging active oxygen radicals, reducing damage to DNA and cellular membranes, and impeding or retarding the proliferation and promotion process of cancer. Though the influence of food upon cancer is complicated, not fully understood, and entwined with many other factors, your diet may make a significant difference.

If you are in the Long Island, New York area and would like to receive more information, please contact Nancy Mazarin at 516-466-9087 or visit her website.