According to the American Cancer Society, 190,000 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed last year. There may be certain dietary and lifestyle changes that may help women with their fight against breast cancer.While genetics and other factors play a role, there is research to suggest some steps women can take to reduce the risk of recurrence, in addition to regular screening and treatment.
1. Eating Green: A University of Michigan study published recently in the journal Clinical Cancer Research found that a compound in broccoli called sulforaphane killed breast cancer stem cells and slowed tumor growth in animal models. The authors suggested that eating broccoli and broccoli sprouts may have similar effects in humans, too. Since broccoli is super-healthy for all sorts of other reasons, adding more of it to the diet certainly won’t hurt you–and may possibly help you, too.
On the other hand, the Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) Randomized Trial found that among survivors of early stage breast cancer, a low fat diet high in vegetables, fruit, and fiber did not reduce additional breast cancer events or mortality during a 7.3-year follow-up period. Of course, other studies have offered different results, and a healthy diet is beneficial for many reasons beyond cancer prevention… including weight control, which is shown to make a difference when it comes to breast cancer recurrence.
2. Curbing alcoholic beverages: Studies show alcohol use should be limited in women at high risk for breast cancer. Experts now say that even a few drinks per week can increase a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer. Researchers from Kaiser Permanente found that women drinking three to four standard servings of alcohol per week were 34 percent more likely to have breast cancer recur than those who didn’t drink or only had a small amount of alcohol. They found the risk increased for women who were post-menopausal or overweight.
Other studies have shown that supplemental folic acid may help reduce the risk of breast cancer in women who do choose to drink regularly, but its best to discuss your drinking habits–as well as the safety of supplementation–with your doctor in order to decide what’s best for you.
3. Avoiding weight gain: Evidence seems to suggest that gaining weight after diagnosis may increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence among women, particularly women who don’t smoke. According to a 2005 study of 5,200 women in the Nurse’s Health Study cohort, women whose BMI’s increased by more than 2 points after diagnosis (corresponding to an average weight gain of 17 lbs) had a 53% increased risk of breast cancer recurrence during the 9-year follow-up period compared to women who maintained their weight. Women who gained between 0.5 and 2.0 BMI points (corresponding to an average gain of 6 lbs) had a 40% increased risk of recurrence compared to those who maintained their weight. These risks were only statistically significant among women who never smoked, and were higher among pre-menopausal women and lower in post-menopausal women. Higher baseline weight was also significantly associated with increased risk of breast cancer recurrence, providing further evidence that maintaining a healthy weight to begin with can help reduce overall risk.
4. Checking supplements: The data on breast cancer and Vitamin D is still mixed, with multiple epidemiological studies suggesting that higher blood levels of Vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk of developing the disease, but prospective studies failing to confirm a protective benefit of higher Vitamin D levels on risk for developing breast cancer. However, since Vitamin D is shown to be very safe and has benefits for bone health and many other conditions, you may want to consider adding a 1,000 IU/day supplement into your daily regimen for overall health, particularly if you avoid the sun during summertime.
5. Picking up the pace: Being physically active 45 to 60 minutes a day at least five days a week can help reduce breast cancer risk, according to researchers. Moderate or vigorous activity seems to produce the best results, but there are also simple ways to sneak a little more exercise into daily routines. For instance, take the stairs instead of the elevator and choose a parking spot farther away from the entrance to a store, school or business. Detailed physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services include a section on exercise and cancer.
When confronting breast cancer, it is important to consider all aspects of disease management and prevention. Recent studies offer new hope for at least minimizing the risks of recurrence. Before making any changes in healthcare routines, however, women should talk with their own physicians and get some personal advice.