Eating to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

Post by Komen Scientific Advisory Board Member Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez

Breast cancer research has shown us that when it comes to reducing the risk of this disease, there may be factors that aren’t related to genetics or cell biology that we actually CAN control.

We know that maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and limiting alcohol intake can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

Emerging research into diet, obesity and exercise has helped us learn even more about the link between a healthy lifestyle and reducing the risk of breast cancer, including:

-          A high body mass index (BMI) has been associated with increased risk for postmenopausal breast cancer;

-          Exercise may reduce breast cancer risk by altering metabolism and hormones, as well as breast density; and

-          Calorie-restricted diets may prevent the development of breast cancer, and help to maintain immunity against breast cancer as we age.

Research is also showing us that eating the right food can help fight cancer.

But, what foods fight cancer? What foods don’t? Are there such things as healthy — and tasty — meals and snacks?

Previous studies have shown that eating fruits and vegetables may slightly lower the risk of some types of breast cancer. Carotenoids, a natural orange-red food pigment found in foods like carrots and squash, have been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer, and researchers are also investigating the effect that dairy, meat, folate (found in leafy greens) and other foods can have on breast cancer risk and development.

While these studies are promising, more research needs to be done to answer our questions about diet and cancer prevention.

Susan G. Komen has invested more than $20 million into research that is addressing these questions and others about the relationship between diet and exercise and breast cancer prevention. Whether it’s research into phytoestrogens (plant estrogens present in soy and some herbs) or the benefits of a diet rich in fish oil, Komen’s research investment in this area spans diet, exercise and obesity.

My own research in the San Antonio area has focused on diet as well. With funding from Komen, my team and I recently launched a new study to teach breast cancer survivors how certain foods may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence as well as the risk of developing other cancers.

Our study, Rx for Better Breast Health, will randomly assign breast cancer survivors to one of two groups. Each study group will get different cancer nutrition tools, possibly including cooking demonstrations by Chef Iverson Brownell, who specializes in creating healthy, tasty culinary recipes.

We hope this will shed new light on how a specific dietary plan can impact inflammation, a process that contributes to the development and spread of cancer.

Inflammation is the process your body uses to protect itself in response to infection or injury. Although inflammation is a vital part of the healing process of wounds and infections, if inflammation becomes chronic, it can actually contribute to illness, like cancer.

Some foods can help fight or prevent inflammation such as deep marine fish, dark leafy green vegetables, bright multi-colored vegetables, black and green teas, and many spices and herbs.

My team and I also explain the link between obesity and cancer, and the relationship between inflammation, cancer and diet, in a new, free downloadable cookbook, Nuestra Cocina Saludable: Recipes from Our Community Kitchen. The cookbook, available in English or Spanish, has 46 recipes for healthy, delicious foods straight from real women’s kitchens in South Texas, which have been nutritionally evaluated and improved by a registered dietician.

We hope our efforts prove that eating right is not only good for your health and weight, but can actually help women prevent breast cancer in the future.

Learn more about the Rx for Better Breast Health study or other clinical trials on diet and cancer prevention by speaking to your doctor or visiting breastcancertrials.org.

Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, an internationally recognized cancer health disparities researcher, directs the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, which studies Latino health disparities. She has spent 30 years directing research on human and organizational communication to reduce chronic disease and cancer health disparities affecting Latinos, including cancer risk factors, clinical trial recruitment, tobacco prevention, obesity prevention, healthy lifestyles, and more. She founded the SaludToday Latino health campaign, which has a blogTwitter, Facebook, and YouTube page. She also trains/mentors Latinos in behavioral sciences and is on advisory boards for LIVESTRONG, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and others.

About the author

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Susan G. Komen has written 284 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.