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Can diet help reduce breast cancer risk?

Its Breast Cancer Awareness month and a good time to talk about the important role that nutrition plays in the development and management of breast cancer. This is not a fun subject, and many of us have made this a taboo conversation but talking about it can save lives. What you eat can affect your risk of cancer.

Whether you have a genetic risk for breast cancer, you currently have breast cancer, or you are a breast cancer survivor, there are multiple studies that show diet is strongly linked to breast cancer [1]. According to a study in the journal, Advances in Radiation Oncology, lifestyle factors such as eating a nourishing diet, daily physical activity, and maintaining normal body weight can prevent more than 30% of most cancers [2].

There are no specific foods or diets that you can eat to totally eliminate your risk of breast cancer. However, an individual’s overall dietary pattern (defined as quantity, portion size, variety of foods, and nutrients in diet) can have help lower your risk of breast cancer. It can also help cancer treatment work more effectively, or can help you live a longer and healthier life. Choosing a wide spectrum of colorful fruits and vegetables (5-6 servings) every day will ensure you are getting all the antioxidants and other nutrients needed to keep your body healthy and may help you remain cancer free. An example of five to six servings of fruits and vegetables might include three cups of lettuce, a half cup of broccoli, half cup of bell peppers, one apple and one cup strawberries.

According to cancer treatment experts, consuming “whole foods”, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds helps to reduce inflammatory processes in cells, resulting in less damage to the DNA within your cells and reduces the spread of cancerous tumors. Whole foods refer to foods that are either close to their natural form, not processed at all, or minimally processed. Examples of such foods are fruits and vegetables eaten raw or minimally processed.

A large-scale study published in the Cancer Research publication detailed how high fruits and vegetables consumption may be associated with better overall survival among breast cancer patients. They found that women who consumed large amounts of cruciferous vegetables and green leafy vegetables (1-2 full servings) had an overall lower risk of dying from breast cancer compared to those who ate lesser amounts [3]. Cruciferous vegetables (also known as Brassicas) include arugula, broccoli, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, turnips, and watercress. They contain compounds that work with the body to lower breast cancer risk. Thus, good dietary habits and physical activity can improve a survivors' health and quality of life [4].

The Bottom Line

Choosing a healthy dietary pattern that includes consuming more whole foods or plant-based foods, and making wise food choices may reduce the risk of breast cancer. Other ways include limiting alcohol intake, achieving, and maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active. Being aware is knowledge and knowledge is power.


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