Breast Cancer

“Lifestyle choices may increase or decrease the risk of breast cancer, but that knowledge is an opportunity to empower ourselves, not to blame” – Dean Ornish, MD.

Breast cancer evokes more fear than cardiovascular disease, even though cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women. Perhaps it’s because breast cancer seems more random and often strikes at an earlier age. Observational studies have found many dietary factors to be associated with an increase or decrease in long term breast cancer mortality.

The following resources are intended to empower women to reduce their life-time risk of dying from breast cancer. It is not our intention to explain why anyone has developed breast cancer as such thinking can lead to blame and guilt – we think this is the reason why health organisations and specialists are reluctant to tell women what dietary changes will reduce their risk.

The association between the Western diet and breast cancer has been known for many years.

Correlation between per capita consumption of animal fat and age-adjusted mortality from breast cancer in different countries (Source: Carroll, 1975, Cancer Research, 35:3379)

Correlation between per capita consumption of animal fat and age-adjusted mortality from breast cancer in different countries (Source: Carroll, 1975, Cancer Research, 35:3379)

This classic graph of breast cancer vs fat intake shows a wide variance in breast cancer risk between countries, demonstrating that that rising breast cancer risk with age is not inevitable.

This graph probably tells a much broader story, the fat intake being a marker for an increased intake of animal products and a reduced intake of whole plant foods. There are other lifestyle factors: breast cancer risk is increased by early puberty, obesity and alcohol; and decreased by younger age of first pregnancy, breast feeding and exercise. Studies of migrant populations prove that genes do not explain the variation between countries.

By late middle age, most women will have breast micro-cancers. At this stage, and probably at a much earlier age, the strategies we present to help you to prevent breast cancer might actually be regarded as “treatment” to keep those cancers micro-sized.

It may surprise some of you that there is a great deal of controversy about whether breast screening mammography is beneficial. There are several points to be made:

  • Earlier discovery of breast cancer will only sometimes change the long term outcome
  • As many as a third of breast cancers found by screening programs would not have progressed to clinical disease
  • Many women are physically and mentally harmed by further investigation and treatment of false positive results – lesions that turn out not to be breast cancer.

The video by Goetsch gives an excellent overview of this: Peter Gøtzsche, MD: Director of The Nordic Cochrane Centre: Part 1: Recommends against mammography and prostate cancer screening

The decision on whether or not to undergo breast screening is a personal one. Most doctors would recommend screening for women considered to be at greatly increased risk.

Conventional treatments include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and long-term hormonal treatment. The benefits of some of these therapies may be overstated. It is important to ask your oncologist what the absolute risk reduction is for the particular treatment, i.e. the likelihood that an individual will avoid premature death. A low-fat, high-fibre plant-based diet has been shown to improve overall survival following breast cancer diagnosis (McEligot et al 2006; Xing et al 2014). The evidence is strong enough such that it should be routine to recommend a whole foods plant-based diet alongside conventional cancer treatment. It should be appreciated that cancer survivors are at increased risk of other diseases, especially heart disease – which can be prevented with a whole foods plant-based diet.

There are many case reports of prolonged remission of advanced breast cancer through adoption of a whole foods plant-based lifestyle. Randomised controlled trials have demonstrated that low to medium grade prostate cancer can be treated with diet alone, but similar trials have not been conducted for breast cancer (for ethical reasons). We look forward to future trials which will investigate the impact of a whole foods, plant-based diet on breast cancer survival, although we note that the prostate cancer research findings have been ignored.

While medical experts are waiting for “gold standard” randomised controlled trials before they make any dietary recommendations for breast cancer, we consider there is enough evidence to act now. The side effects of a whole food plant-based diet are all good – improved overall wellness and ability to cope with treatment protocols, prevention and reversal of other chronic diseases and empowerment to take control of your destiny. With this in mind we have written a guide to Nutrition for Breast Cancer Survival.

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Page created 30 November 2013
Last updated (resources) 20 April 2019