04 Oct Breast Cancer And Nutrition
Proper nutrition is important not only to prevent breast cancer, but also to reduce the risk of recurrence. A healthy diet can therefore become a perfect ally in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer, helping the patient feel better while limiting the side effects of treatments. Breast cancer and nutrition are two concepts inextricably linked, as the latter can significantly affect the prognosis of cancer.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer doubles every decade until menopause, after which growth slows. However, the diagnosis of breast cancer is more common after menopause.
Overall survival rates for breast cancer vary worldwide, but have generally improved. This is because access to medical care is improving in many countries and most cases of cancer are diagnosed at an early stage. In addition, targeted surgeries and personalized adjuvant therapies are available. To date, therefore, life expectancy has improved significantly thanks to a set of factors, due to the greater awareness of this problem by the population and the growing interest in a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition. Breast cancer and diet are closely linked, a fact that has been proven through numerous studies.
Through numerous studies, researchers have found that certain dietary habits are protective against many diseases, while others can increase the risk. The international organization called the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is tasked with collecting, processing and disseminating data on the interrelationships between food, lifestyle and cancer. In 2018, the WCRF gathered the most up-to-date scientific oncology evidence (also related to breast cancer), for both prevention and treatment, to develop guidelines. Overall, this new report highlights how a sedentary lifestyle and intake of refined, high-calorie foods support the development of overweight and obesity.
Let’s see together, therefore, the recommendations for a healthier life.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
The goals for optimal body weight are:
- Maintain a healthy weight, defined by a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25. BMI is a parameter related to a person’s weight and height. It is calculated by dividing his weight in kilograms by the square of his height in meters.
- Try to maintain an adequate weight throughout your life.
- Avoid increasing waist circumference. The increase in waist circumference is mainly determined by the increase in weight and fat mass not only at the subcutaneous level, but especially at the visceral and abdominal.
As several studies show, being overweight or obese during adulthood increases the risk of breast cancer after menopause. Breast cancer and proper nutrition play an important role in maintaining a healthy body weight.
Physical Activity Every Day
It is important to walk briskly every day and avoid sitting for long periods of time. In addition, it would be advisable to limit sedentary habits, such as, for example, watching TV, long hours on the computer or on the phone. Maintaining physical activity, in fact, reduces the risk of breast cancer, during the premenopausal period as well as after menopause. Physical activity leads to a reduction in body fat, including subcutaneous and visceral fat, thereby modifying a number of endocrine, hormonal, and growth factors, which may influence cancer susceptibility.
In fact, physical activity improves sensitivity to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that, along with glucagon, is involved in regulating blood sugar and allowing glucose (sugar) to enter cells.Insulin also participates in the regulation of cholesterol and fatty acid production and is involved, together with IGF1 – another hormone similar in structure to insulin – in stimulating cell proliferation, a fundamental process in tumorigenesis. Physical activity, acting on fat mass, reduces the levels of hormones such as estrogen and androgen, leading to a lower risk of developing breast cancer. These are sex hormones produced mainly by the gonads, both male and female, and have a fundamental role in the stimulation of the sexual organs, such as, for example, the mammary gland (i.e. the breast).
Adopt a Diet Rich in Whole Grains, Vegetables, Fruits and Legumes
It is important to consume foods that provide dietary fiber daily. It is important to include whole grains (examples: rice, wheat, oats, barley, rye) and legumes (such as beans, chickpeas or lentils) in most meals. You should eat at least five servings, including vegetables and fruits, every day. In general, fruits and vegetables, which are rich in water and fiber, have a low caloric intake and, especially when consumed in varieties, represent an important source of vitamins, minerals and other beneficial molecules. These molecules perform anti-inflammatory action and have validated anti-cancer properties. They are, in fact, substances capable of inhibiting oxidation reactions and therefore the formation of free radicals.
Beware of Ready-made Foods!
Limit your consumption of processed foods, high in fat, starches or sugars, such as snacks, street food, chips, snacks, cookies, sweets and candy. This is because a diet very rich in highly energetic foods, such as industrially produced foods, is closely associated with an increased risk of overweight and obesity. These conditions, in addition to increasing the risk of cancer, can affect the occurrence of other chronic diseases (for example, cardiovascular and metabolic, such as diabetes). Foods with a high energy density, that is, foods that contain a high caloric intake in a small volume, provide the most calories due to the composition of fats and sugars, contributing to weight gain. Many of these foods, however, they do not provide useful substances to the body, such as vitamins, minerals and polyphenols, so they are only harmful to health. Because of this poor nutritional value, their calories are nicknamed “empty calories”.
Limiting the consumption of red meat and preserved meats
Foods of animal origin consumed in a healthy diet rich in plant products represent the supply of the right nutrients and can be part of a diet considered healthy and preventive. As for eggs, milk and its derivatives, white meat and fish, there is no evidence to date to prove that their consumption affects the development of oncological diseases. When it comes to red meat, however, the evidence collected so far suggests that eating less than 500 grams per week poses no health risk. So, if you consume red meat, it would be best to limit consumption to three servings per week maximum (350-500 grams of cooked weight). The sausages, processed and processed meats should be excluded from the shopping list or, at least, consumed only occasionally. The direct link between processed meat consumption and cancer risk could be linked to preservation methods (salt, preservatives) rather than saturated fat content. Several epidemiological studies, in fact, link a diet high in saturated fat to an increased risk of developing colon, rectal, and endometrial cancer. And breast cancer is significantly affected by the consumption of processed foods and diet in general. The direct link between processed meat consumption and cancer risk could be linked to preservation methods (salt, preservatives) rather than saturated fat content. Several epidemiological studies, in fact, link a diet high in saturated fat to an increased risk of developing colon, rectal, and endometrial cancer. And breast cancer is significantly affected by the consumption of processed foods and diet in general. The direct link between processed meat consumption and cancer risk could be linked to preservation methods (salt, preservatives) rather than saturated fat content. Several epidemiological studies, in fact, link a diet high in saturated fat to an increased risk of developing colon, rectal, and endometrial cancer. And breast cancer is significantly affected by the consumption of processed foods and diet in general.
More Water, Less Sugary Drinks
To maintain adequate hydration, it is best to drink water and not consume sugary drinks. The latter play a major role in weight gain, especially if consumed regularly. When we talk about sugary drinks we talk about “empty calories”, as they do not have an adequate nutritional level, having a high amount of simple sugars that “exceed” the intake of the few vitamins and minerals.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol stimulates the production of estrogens and androgens circulating in the blood, hormones important for the development of breast tissue. If these hormones are in excess, the risk of breast cancer increases. In addition, during treatments it is important to be aware that alcohol can interfere with the functioning of certain chemotherapy and radiotherapy drugs. So, if you really can’t resist a good glass of wine, it would be a good idea to consult your doctor, who will be able to give you the right information about possible interactions. Some studies show that drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence, especially in postmenopausal women.
Meeting Nutritional Needs With Nutrition
For most people, it is possible to achieve adequate nutrition through a healthy diet that includes the right foods, without having to resort to the use of supplements. Vitamins, minerals and other substances should be considered as an integral part of the foods that contain them. Scientific evidence supports this notion by stating that the best form of nutrition is represented by food alone. So there are particular circumstances or pathologies in which the body needs help through the use of supplements but it is important, in any case, that a doctor directs you.
Unity Is Strength
Every person who has had breast cancer has a different story. However, regardless of that person’s history, it is essential to remember and emphasize the importance of diet, physical activity, and the role of body fat in winning against cancer. For this reason, it is necessary to implement simultaneously all the recommendations made so far. People diagnosed with cancer should consult a qualified health professional as soon as possible, who can adjust their treatment approach (dietary and physical activity), taking into account each person’s circumstances and previous experience. Unless otherwise advised by your doctor, all women diagnosed with cancer, after the acute phase of treatment
TAKE HOME MESSAGE!
Breast cancer must be attacked on several fronts and nutrition plays an important role in this battle. For those of you struggling, I want to remind you that this pathology can be defeated by lifestyle intervention. However, you who are here reading, remember how all these little things, added to medical treatments, ongoing scientific research, psychological support and the love of the people around you, can help you!
It is therefore important to keep in mind how movement, limiting alcohol and red meat consumption, giving up sugary drinks, increasing consumption of grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes and breastfeeding are the best strategies for prevention and treatment, especially of breast cancer. Additionally, for those of you who have beaten breast cancer, take care to stay healthy through diet and healthy habits in order to improve your quality of life and possibly prevent recurrence. Breast cancer and its treatment rely heavily on diet, so it is important to pay due attention to adopting a healthy lifestyle! Breast Surgeon Dr. Ioanna Galanou suggests the appropriate measures for the effective treatment of breast cancer.