Low-Fat Diet Prevents Breast Cancer Recurrence

For years, researchers have studied and debated a possible link between fat intake and breast cancer. For a while, experts accepted as fact that a high-fat intake increased the risk of breast cancer. Then came disappointing research results that caused nutritionists to back away from the fat-breast cancer link.
   Now, for the first time, a large clinical trial has found that women who cut the fat in their diets following standard treatment for early breast cancer significantly reduced their risk of recurrent cancer.

The 20% Solution. The study, presented at the 2005 American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Orlando, was part of the Women’s Intervention  Nutrition Study (WINS). The study looked at 2,437 women, 48 to 79 years old, with early-stage breast cancer. In the first year after surgery for the cancer, the  women were assigned to either a dietary intervention group or a non-diet control group. The researchers instructed the dietary intervention group on how to reduce fat intake to about 20% of calories. The control group received no counseling.
   The results? After five years, women in the low-fat group had more than 20% fewer recurrences of breast cancer compared to women in the control group.

But Can It Be Done? The findings are certainly impressive. This is the first time researchers have shown that cancer recurrence declined simply as a result of dietary intervention. But how realistic is the diet? The average daily fat intake for the women in the study was only 33 grams a day. That’s the amount you would get from three ounces of extra-lean ground beef, one teaspoon of margarine and one-half ounce of walnuts.
   In other words, this is a very low-fat diet we?re talking about, with no room for splurges or extra treats. It’s mostly just fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and lentils with little or no added fat. Healthful, to be sure, but not everyone is cut out to  follow such a low-fat regimen for a lifetime.
   It’s important to point out that while the diet reduced the chance that the cancer would return, it did not prove?or even study?whether a low-fat diet could help prevent cancer in the first place. That remains to be seen.

EN‘s Advice. If you?re a breast cancer survivor, trying a low-fat diet is certainly worthwhile. But go into it knowing that it’s a difficult diet and that you?ll have to stick to it over the long haul for it to be effective. Be sure also to improve the nutrient density of the foods you eat?make your calories count by choosing foods chock full of nutrients.
   We suggest you seek nutrition advice from a registered dietitian. And for valuable tips and inspiration, check out one of EN‘s favorite books, A Dietitian’s Cancer Story (Swan Press, 2002) by Diana Dyer, a two-time breast cancer survivor (order through EN‘s website, http://www.environmentalnutrition.com/catalog.

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