In a 2009 study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, increased consumption of carotenoids was associated with “greater likelihood of breast cancer-free survival.” The report based its findings in part on the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living Study, a National Institutes of Health-funded investigation.
To increase the consumption of carotenoids, Dr. Mitchell Gaynor advises his breast cancer patients to eat more cruciferous vegetables. Gaynor, founder of Gaynor Integrative Oncology, says his reasoning is simple: “We understand cancer quite differently today than we did when President Nixon declared a war on cancer in the 1970s. We know now that certain foods make your body inhospitable for cancer cells to thrive. The goal is to keep cancer cells dormant, and what you eat makes a difference.”
Examples of cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, kale, cabbage and cauliflower.
Salmon & Cod
Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids has also been linked to an improved breast cancer prognosis. Fish in this category include salmon, haddock, cod, halibut and sardines.
A 2011 study in the Journal of Nutrition showed that the consumption of EPA and DHA fatty acids from fish “inhibit the proliferation of breast cancer cells” and reduces “the progression of breast tumors.” Women who were diagnosed and treated for early stage breast cancer — and given higher levels of EPA and DHA — had an approximate 25% reduced risk of recurrence.
It’s important to note that the benefit corresponded only to the consumption of fish, not fish oil supplements.
Gaynor says that eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids is also healthful because it supports proper immune function and lowers a woman’s risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The American Cancer Society warns against eating too many of these fatty foods: “Diets high in fat tend to be high in calories and may contribute to obesity, which in turn is linked with an increased risk of several types of cancer.”
Beans & Whole Grains
Women who consume a high-fiber diet probably boost their life expectancy.
“A high-fiber diet is associated with lower overall mortality in breast cancer patients,” said Dr. Keith Block, medical-scientific director at the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Skokie, Illinois.
Block says fiber is beneficial because it can help women control their appetite and may decrease the number of calories they consume. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, particularly after menopause, is widely viewed as one factor that influences survival.
Which is why Estabrook at the Comprehensive Breast Center is offering that nutrition class in the first place.
“When you look at cancers, most are caused by weight gain,” she said. “The fatter you are, the more estrogen circulates in your body, and when there’s more estrogen, the risk of breast disease increases.
“But cancer survival is not just about eating one kind of fruit or vegetable. It’s about making the right lifestyle choices, including exercise. Diet is one part of a larger picture.”