Updated September 27, 2010
Nutrition is a tool that you can use to improve your overall health and quality of life.
You’ve probably heard conflicting information about nutrition and breast cancer. You may wonder whether the foods you ate led to your diagnosis. You might even have tried using a certain food, diet or supplement in hopes that it would lower your risk, prevent recurrence or control metastatic disease.
Gaining weight during treatment can be a problem. Because estrogen is partly metabolized by fat tissue, you have a higher risk of recurrence of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer if you are overweight or obese.
Some studies suggest that eating a low-fat diet may lower the risk for recurrence after a diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer. Other early studies report an association between low vitamin D levels and breast cancer recurrence. More research is needed to help us learn more about these questions.
Even though we are not sure how nutrition affects breast cancer outcome, we do know that improving what you eat, even before treatment, by switching to a diet that is plant-based and low in saturated fat supports your overall health. You can take steps toward a better diet by reducing your intake of red meats and full-fat dairy products and eating more vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains.
Try to get your vitamin D and other nutrients from your food. You can find vitamin D in some types of oily fish, milk, fortified cereals and cheese. Exposure to sunlight for short periods of time also boosts vitamin D.
Bone changes and bone weakness are a side effect of many types of breast cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and surgery to remove the ovaries. Along with vitamin D, calcium is very important for maintaining and rebuilding bones. To get dietary calcium, drink low-fat milk and eat dairy products, fish, dark-green leafy vegetables and foods that have added calcium.
It is always best to get your nutrients from food. However, your doctor may recommend you take calcium and vitamin D supplements in addition to your regular medicines if you are at risk for bone loss or bone thinning because of breast cancer treatments. These supplements are the same supplements that many aging women take to lower their risk for fracture and osteoporosis.
Working with a Professional
If you are considering diet changes, consult a nutritionist or registered dietitian to outline goals for healthy eating. Look for someone with experience treating people with cancer at your local hospital, or ask your doctor for a referral.