Is There a Link Between Diet and Breast Cancer?

These days, breast cancer treatment often includes seeing an oncologist, a surgeon, a psychologist and, increasingly, a nutritionist.

Many breast cancer survivors focus on the food they eat when planning heir breast cancer recovery and treatment.

"We help our patients decipher all this conflicting information, all the confusing studies," said Jennifer Crum, a nutritionist at the New York University Cancer Institute.

And there's plenty for them to help patients decipher. Search engines supply millions of hits for advice on "breast cancer and diet," most of which is flat-out wrong.

"The end result is that we really don't know that there's any specific diet, any specific food, that women can take to protect them," said Dr. Anne McTiernan at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

But what about those breast cancer prevention diets — low-fat diets loaded with fruits and vegetables? The Institute for Cancer Research actually tells patients these foods "can fight cancer at several stages."

Despite this advice, no clinical trials have ever proved diets like this actually prevent breast cancer. Many cancer centers recommend these foods but not because they might contain any cancer-fighting minerals.

"It helps people lose weight, and it helps them keep it off," Crum said.

Maintaining a healthy body weight is one area of breast cancer prevention that is clear and consistent. Other lifestyle changes that have proved effective? Less alcohol — and more exercise.

"The only consistent evidence [of what] reduces your risk of recurrence are physical activity and achieving and maintaining a health weight. That is the only thing that has been replicated in dozens of studies," Crum said.

"No single nutrient, no single vitamin or mineral, no single food or food group will specifically decrease your risk of recurrence of breast cancer."

Please visit the National Center For Complementary and Alternative Medicine for more information on breast cancer and alternative therapies.

For a comprehensive listing of Medicine on the Cutting Edge reports with John McKenzie, click here.

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