This Diet May Actually Help Treat Breast Cancer, Study Says

Could a plant-based diet help women with a deadly and tough-to-treat form of breast cancer? The results are promising.

Breast-cancerDavid Litman/Shutterstock
The case for adding certain cancer-fighting foods to your diet has been bolstered by new research: A study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, published in the journal Scientific Reports, has found that a particular plant-based diet may be the secret to making ER-negative breast cancer, one of the most deadly of this type of cancer, highly-treatable.

About 80 percent of all breast cancers are ER-positive, according to WebMD, which means the cancer cells grow in response to the hormone estrogen, and they can be targeted by hormone therapy that can slow or stop the tumor’s growth. The more rare but deadlier form of breast cancer is ER-negative, and it’s much less likely to respond to hormone therapy. Make sure you know all the possible symptoms of breast cancer.

“Unfortunately, there are few options for women who develop ER-negative breast cancer,” says Trygve Tollefsbol, PhD, DO, a professor of biology and senior scientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, as reported on Newswise. “Because of the poor prognosis this type of cancer carries, new advances in prevention and treatment for ER-negative breast cancer have particular significance.”

The researcher identified two substances in common foods known to have success in cancer prevention: sulforaphane from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, and polyphenols, found in green tea. (Find out more about the health benefits of green tea.) When these compounds were combined and administered as a dietary treatment to mice, their tumors were converted from ER-negative to ER-positive, making the cancer easily treatable with the estrogen-inhibiting drug, tamoxifen.

Tollefsbol and colleagues work in the field of epigenetic, the study of biological mechanisms that can switch genes on and off. Their hope is to identify ways to alter gene expression in fatal diseases such as ER-negative breast cancer, potentially overriding the cancer’s imperviousness to hormone therapy. While conventional cancer research tends to zero in on a single compound, Dr. Tollefsbol has been combining cancer-preventive compounds in attempts to target ER-negative tumors.

“One reason many in the field shy away from combining two or more compounds at a time for treatment research is the fear of adverse effects and potential interactions that are unknown,” Tollefsbol says. “To overcome that concern, we chose compounds that we felt confident would interact well together because they have similar favorable biological effects, but still have different mechanisms for carrying out these effects that would not interfere with one another.”

The answer is not as simple as a “breast cancer vegan diet” plan for women with the disease, although these expert tips for starting a vegan diet make the process easier. However, further research could lead to life-changing new treatment options.

“The results of this research provide a novel approach to preventing and treating ER-negative breast cancer, which currently takes hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide,” says Yuanyuan Li, MD, PhD, a research assistant professor of biology. “The next step would be to move this to clinical trial, and to eventually be able to provide more effective treatment options for women either predisposed to or afflicted with this deadly disease.”

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