Once you’ve been through breast cancer, you realize it’s an experience you never want to repeat. Lower your risk of recurrence by being smart about the foods you eat.
We’re all looking for the silver bullet, right? That super-food or magic supplement that claims it’ll prevent breast cancer - or, in the case of us survivors, a recurrence.
Unfortunately, that bullet doesn’t exist. Working to prevent a recurrence of your cancer consists of a whole host of everyday efforts, from exercising to lowering stress to eating a healthy diet.
Let’s examine diet as a component of cancer prevention. Studies thus far have shown no proven connection between specific foods and breast cancer recurrence - or recurrence prevention. But we do know that maintaining a healthy weight lowers your risk; women who gain weight after treatment are more likely to experience breast cancer again in the future.
Thus, eating a healthy diet, one that keeps your weight in check, is key to keeping you cancer-free.
And what qualifies as a healthy diet?
No surprise here: a healthy diet for breast cancer survivors is basically the same as it is for anyone else. Aim for a diet high in fruits and vegetables (at least five servings a day). Increase your fiber; reduce your consumption of trans fats, found chiefly in processed, packaged, and fast foods.
Eat less red meat, more fish (try for three servings a week) - especially high-fat fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, rich in omega-3 fatty acids whose cancer-fighting properties are fairly well established.
Breast cancer survivors might also consider a lower-fat diet. One study indicated that women whose cancer was estrogen-negative lowered their risk of recurrence with a diet limiting fat to 25% of daily calories. (2014, breastcancer.org)
Even in the absence of evidence from a specific study, though, women with hormone-receptive (ER/PR+) cancer should consider lowering their fat calories; a high-fat diet increases circulating estrogen in the blood, and estrogen feeds cancer cells.
What else should you think about when it comes to daily diet?
While there’s no hard and fast evidence linking breast cancer with chemicals, some studies show a correlation between pesticide consumption and cancer. Lower your ingestion of chemicals by choosing organic foods. And if your budget can’t afford an all-organic diet, be sure to wash produce thoroughly before eating.
Finally, there’s an established risk between moderate-to-high alcohol consumption and breast cancer recurrence. Survivors are advised to limit themselves to one drink a day - and to eliminate "binge" drinking (e.g., downing a six-pack or bottle of wine at one sitting).
Does all of this sound daunting? Change is hard, so take it slowly. If you haven’t been making smart food choices, you’re more likely to stick to your new plan if the pace of improvement is moderate, rather than sudden.
But considering the possible alternative - a return of your breast cancer - a healthy diet is worth the pain of change.
Want to learn more?
“Can Food Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer?” Breastcancer.org. June 18, 2014. Accessed February 1, 2015. http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/nutrition/reduce_risk/reduce_risk.
Breast cancer survivor and award-winning author PJ Hamel counsels women with breast cancer through the volunteer program at her local hospital. She also founded and manages a large online survivor support network.
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.