Does Diet Matter for Breast Cancer Survivors?

October 11, 2018
Lori Smith, BSN, MSN, CRNP

We take a look at how a healthy diet can improve quality of life in breast cancer survivors.

The results of a recent study have found that a reduction in dyspnea for Korean breast cancer survivors was associated with a healthy dietary pattern that included a diet high in vegetables, whole grains, soy, potatoes, fish, fruits, yogurt, kimchi, mushrooms, seasonings, dressings, and eggs. Those who consumed foods on the healthy dietary pattern limited their consumption of foods like cakes/snacks, alcohol, pork, rice rolls, ice cream, hamburgers, pizza, noodles, refined grains, and coffee. This was compared with breast cancer survivors who consumed foods from a Western diet, which includes high intake of salad, seasonings, dressings, mixed rice, pancakes, eggs, processed seafood, chicken or duck meat, and beef, and lower intake of fruits, nuts, and seaweed.

“It is important to consume a real whole food approach when looking at a healthy lifestyle, especially for cancer patients. I tend to educate my patients on mirroring the Mediterranean diet, with a focus on mainly plant-based foods, including vegetables, beans/legumes, and nuts/seeds, as well as fruit and whole grains, but which can also include fish, chicken, and eggs (for lean protein),” said Abby Wetzel, MS, RD, LDN, an outpatient oncology dietitian at the Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, in an interview with Cancer Network. “The more you can avoid processed food, the better you are at providing yourself with nutrient-dense foods to help maintain weight and provide your body with the energy that it needs for daily function.”

“Diets such as the Mediterranean diet include foods that are nutrient dense in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other cancer-fighting properties,” she noted.

The study, published in BMC Women’s Health, evaluated 232 women who had been diagnosed with stage I to III breast cancer. Study participants were between 21 and 79 years of age, with a prior breast cancer surgery within 6 months. Although the dyspnea scores improved within the group following a healthy diet, it was noted that insomnia worsened. Researchers also reported an increase in constipation in those who followed the Western dietary pattern, specifically in stage I breast cancer survivors.

“Whole grains and vegetables can help with constipation if you are consuming enough fluids (water) with them. The soluble fiber in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains allows more water to stay in your stool, which can make it softer and easier to pass through your intestines,” said Wetzel.

Cancer patients should “consume an adequate amount of protein, both plant and/or animal, which can help with symptoms of fatigue. The use of herbs and spices can enhance flavor and help with any taste changes that may have resulted from treatment,” she noted.

“The BMC article on healthy eating and breast cancer is worthy of discussion and further studies. Problems with the study include classifying a diet as either “healthy” or “Western/unhealthy,” said Patrick Quillin, PhD, RD, CNS, author of Beating Cancer with Nutrition and former vice president of nutrition at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, in an interview with Cancer Network. “There are limitless shades of gray in between these extremes. What is considered a healthy diet is open for debate among the hundred or so diets that are taught around the globe.”

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