What Do You Know About Nutrition and Metastatic Breast Cancer?
Amy Hendel | Sept 28, 2017
Reviewed by Todd Gersten, MD on Dec 10, 2017
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Boosting protein while you are in treatment for breast cancer is a healthy goal.
This is true. Treatment for metastatic cancer can be quite debilitating, so you will need an adequate supply of energy to tolerate the various treatment options. Bumping up your protein levels by making sure to include quality proteins like skinless chicken, eggs and egg whites, seeds, nuts, beans and legumes, and fish can support energy levels. Eat a variety of protein-rich foods. Try to choose organic and hormone-free options when possible and emphasize meat alternatives. You can increase your overall protein intake by making sure meals and snacks contain quality protein.
If I start gaining weight during treatment, then I should consider cutting my calories to lose weight.
This is false. Patients may experience weight fluctuations during treatment for metastatic breast cancer. Some patients do lose weight when dealing with the side effects of certain treatments, which can cause nausea and/or vomiting. Some patients may struggle to eat due to loss of appetite during treatment. Other patients may experience fluid retention, which can increase weight. There can be other reasons for weight gain, so alert your doctor if you gain or lose more than 5 pounds, especially if the weight gain or loss is sudden. Do not attempt to lose weight or dramatically change your diet without consulting with your healthcare team.
I must start taking supplements while undergoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer to support my strength and energy levels.
This is false. If you are able to eat a balanced diet including fruits and vegetables, dairy products like milk and yogurt, adequate protein, healthy fats like avocado, olive oil and nuts, and whole grains, then your diet will provide adequate levels of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. It is far better to get these nutrients directly from food. One side effect of chemotherapy may be that foods don’t taste the same, so you may not enjoy eating, which can mean you eat less. If you are losing weight, feel sluggish, weak, or lack energy, talk to your doctor. He may refer you to a dietician or nutritionist who can help you adjust your diet plan. If you do need any supplements, the regimen should be discussed with your doctor or a dietitian or nutritionist.
Ginger products can help to limit or reduce nausea associated with breast cancer treatment.
This is true. Ginger ale, crystallized ginger, ginger tea, and cooking with ginger can help reduce the nausea associated with breast cancer treatment. Other things that can help include eating smaller meals several times during the day instead of three larger meals. Alternate water with lemonade or lemon water. Avoid very spicy, fried, greasy, or sweet foods. Eat blander foods (whole grain toast, baked whole grain crackers, oatmeal, oven-roasted turkey, bananas) when you feel nauseous. Eat cool or cold foods as warmer foods can have more pronounced smells and odors. Open the windows when you cook or heat foods to limit odors.
Dry mouth is a common side effect of breast cancer treatments like chemotherapy.
This is true. Sucking on a hard candy or chewing sugarless gum can help you to produce more saliva. Drink water and sugar free tea frequently during the day. Also drink water when eating solid foods to help ease any difficulties swallowing. Eat soft, moist foods. Avoid sticky foods like peanut butter that can be difficult to chew or swallow. Smoothies go down easy, and you can add protein powder and a variety of fruits and vegetables to boost nutrition. Soups and some stews are also easy to chew and swallow. A yogurt parfait is also a refreshing and easy-to-swallow light meal. Layer Greek plain yogurt with high fiber cereal, chopped nuts, and fresh fruit.
I am more likely to suffer with diarrhea and not constipation when being treated with chemotherapy agents.
This is false. Women being treated for metastatic breast cancer can develop diarrhea or constipation. If diarrhea occurs, make sure to hydrate adequately. Eat binding foods like white rice, banana, toast, tea, plain pasta, and foods low in fiber like cottage cheese, yogurt, white bread, and smooth peanut butter. Try the BRAT diet (bananas, applesauce, rice, and toast). If it persists, let your doctor know. Ask your doctor if you can take a course of probiotics. Fermented foods and yogurt have probiotics. You may need temporary medication if the diarrhea persists. Talk to the doctor first before taking any over-the-counter medication for diarrhea when you have metastatic breast cancer. If you develop constipation, increase the fiber content of your diet, but make sure to hydrate well. High fiber foods including whole grains, ancient grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables, brown rice, beans, and nuts can help. Ask your doctor for a stool softener recommendation. Probiotics can also help to balance your gut microbes and help to regulate bowel movements.
Foods high in anthocyanins have been shown to kill cancer cells.
This is true. Studies seem to show that anthocyanins have anti-carcinogenic properties. Foods high in anthocyanins include beetroot, red cabbage, eggplant, red grapes, cherries, and red and purple berries. These foods are also rich in flavonoids, cancer-fighting compounds. Remember that beets and beetroot can cause urine to turn pink.
Wild fish is an especially good protein choice for patients fighting metastatic breast cancer.
This is true. First, omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish and flaxseed are considered anti-inflammatory. In studies they also appear to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Studies are also looking at the impact of DHA and EPA on reducing chemotherapy-associated muscle loss and weight gain. Omega-3s may encourage the synthesis of prostaglandins, which may help disrupt the survival of cancer cells. Oily fish is also a good source of protein and low in saturated fats. The second issue is that there are concerns about the toxins that can accumulate in farmed fish, resulting from the pollution of oceans and rivers. That’s why wild fish, which tends to have a lower exposure to toxins, might be preferable to farmed fish. In certain well-managed fisheries, sardines, farmed rainbow trout, barramundi, farmed mussels, and other shellfish may have lower levels of toxins too. Get to know the fish counter sales person at your local supermarket or fish store so you can find out which fish are likely to have the lowest levels of environmental toxins.
Eat cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts because these vegetables seem to help to prevent cancer.
The answer to this is a bit tricky but mostly true. You should eat cruciferous vegetables with their anti-cancer properties. The glucosinolates in these vegetables are broken down by digestion, producing isothiocyanates and indoles, the compounds involved in fighting cancer. They are also rich in vitamin A and C. The key is to eat these vegetables fresh because over-cooking them can reduce levels of heat-sensitive vitamin C and calcium. Remember to also eat bok choy, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale, all cruciferous vegetables too.
Steer clear of all soy foods if you are being treated for breast cancer.
This is false. However, there are several qualifications to this discussion. Soy foods like tofu, soy milk, tempeh, and soybeans are considered best choices. Unless you have been eating soy foods regularly for decades, you should limit yourself to one or two servings daily. Isoflavones, active compounds in soy, may help to lower risk of several cancers, including breast cancer. It may also have benefits for cancer survivors. There is little data to support the use of soy supplements or isolated soy phytochemicals, and it is recommended that you avoid these products because of the lack of safety data. Soy does not appear to interfere with Tamoxifen (Soltamox). It is still recommended that you check with your doctor before adding soy products to your diet.
There are some foods that should be tracked carefully or even avoided if you are currently being treated for metastatic breast cancer.
This is true. Current recommendations suggest that you should limit caffeine intake from coffee to two standard cups daily. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation, and not daily. Foods like cured meats, containing nitrates, should be eaten infrequently. Highly processed foods should also be considered treat foods. Foods that contain additives should be limited. Ask for a consultation with a dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in cancer care to help create a healthy, balanced food plan.