Women checking in for appointments at the Comprehensive Breast Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York this past month have been offered much more than their usual office visit. Some might be in for their annual exam while others are trying to fight breast cancer.
On the reception desk stands a colorful flyer inside a plastic frame. The flyer is decorated with pictures of luscious-looking fruits and vegetables. The office has the set-up as a way to invite patients to attend a health seminar that teaches patients the foods they should eat to boast their immunity and reduce their chances of dying from breast cancer.
“It’s clear better eating habits increase the possibility that a woman won’t get breast cancer or have a recurrence ” says Dr. Alison Estabrook, chief of breast surgery at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt and director of the Breast Center.
Fight breast cancer
After two decades of breast cancer being on the rise, numbers have actually been declining in recent years. Women in the United States have one in eight chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the ACS.
Doctors who specialize in nutrition say there are certain foods women can include in a overall healthy diet to increase their chance of survival and fight breast cancer.
Dr. Barry Boyd, creator of the integrative medicine program at Greenwich Hospital-Yale Health Systems and director of nutritional oncology says women should consume soy without any fear. Soy now helps women fight breast cancer.
“It was feared that components of soy had estrogen-like properties that influenced the growth of breast cancer cells,” Boyd said. “Science has not only proved an absence of risk, there’s also a possible benefit.”
Boyd points to a study in the American Journal of clinical Nutrition that observed soy intake in the United States and China among 9,599 women after they were diagnosed with breast cancer. The consumption of isoflavones, found in soybeans, produced a “statistically significant reduced risk of recurrence” among breast cancer survivors diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, according to researchers.
Kale, Sweet potatoes, and squash
Eating foods rich in carotenoids has been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence. Carotenoids are pigments found in foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard.
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
Dr. Mitchell Gaynor advises his breast cancer patients to eat more cruciferous vegetables to fight breast cancer. Gaynor, founder of Gaynor Integrative Oncology, says : “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, haddock, and cod
Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids has also been linked to an improved breast cancer prognosis. Fish in the omege-2 fatty acids 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.
Eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids is healthy because it supports proper immune function and lowers a women;s risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The American Cancer Society warns about 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 and whole grains
In general, women who consume a high fiber diet 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.
“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 to fight breast cancer.”