A Low-Fat Diet Helps Reduce Women’s Risk of Dying from Breast Cancer, Research says

A 20-year study shows a significant drop in deaths from breast cancer among women who consumed less dietary fat.

Women who followed a lower-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grains had a lower risk of dying of breast cancer than those on a higher-fat diet, according to the results of a major study released Wednesday.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with one in eight women diagnosed during their lifetime.

About | Breast cancer

Signs and symptoms of breast cancer:
  • A change in size or shape of the breast
  • A lump or thickening that feels different from the rest of the breast tissue
  • Redness or a rash on the skin and/or around the nipple
  • A change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling
  • Discharge (liquid) that comes from the nipple without squeezing
  • Nipple becoming inverted or changing its position or shape
  • Swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone
  • Constant pain in the breast or armpit
What to do if you find a change:
  • Most changes are likely to be normal or due to a benign (not cancer) breast condition
  • If you notice a change, visit a GP as soon as possible
  • A GP may feel there is no need for further investigation or may refer you to a breast clinic
  • If you do not feel comfortable with a male GP, ask if there is a female GP available

Source: Breast Cancer Care

The new findings are from a long-term analysis of the federally funded Women’s Health Initiative and included data on more than 48,000 postmenopausal women and were conducted at 40 centers across the United States. When the WHI study began in 1993, the women were in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, and had never been diagnosed with breast cancer. From 1993 to 1998, the women were randomly assigned either to follow their usual diet, in which fat accounted for 32 percent of daily calories on average, or to try to reduce fat intake to 20 percent of calories while consuming daily servings of vegetables, fruit, and grains.


The dietary-intervention group fell short of the goal; they managed to reduce their fat consumption to about 24.5 percent, and then “drifted up to about 29 percent,” according to lead study author Rowan Chlebowski of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. Members of the group lost 3 percent of their body weight on average. Still, the women in that group who developed breast cancer had a lower risk of death than the women developed the disease and followed their regular diets.

Chlebowski said the study showed that women could improve their health by making modest changes in what and how much they eat. “This is dietary moderation. It’s not like eating twigs and branches,” he said. “It’s what people were eating, say, 20 years ago, before you could pick up 900 calories in one candy bar.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now, said:

This major trial provides strong evidence that all postmenopausal women [who have not had breast cancer] can reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by maintaining a healthy diet low in fat and rich in fruit, vegetables, and grains.

These findings are promising as they suggest that by encouraging healthy eating, we could help more women lower their risk of dying from breast cancer. But we need to find ways to support more women to make sustainable changes to their diet. Far too many women are still losing their lives to breast cancer and we urgently need renewed focus and funding from UK Governments on promoting healthy lifestyles.

The dietary intervention lasted for 8.5 years and included several sessions with nutritionists. The latest analysis represents a follow-up of almost 20 years.

Experts on breast cancer generally praised the study but expressed some reservations.

For one thing, the study was designed to determine whether a low-fat diet could reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in the first place, not whether it provided a mortality benefit.

Previously released data has shown that a lower-fat diet did not result in a reduced risk for developing breast cancer.

The breast cancer experts also noted that the mortality benefit took almost 20 years to emerge, and some said that it was not clear which dietary component was responsible for the benefit — the reduced fat or the additional fruits, vegetables and grains.

The study authors said the dietary-modification group used a diet similar to one called DASH — for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — which is designed to prevent or treat high blood pressure.

The new study “adds more evidence on the impact of diet, but I wouldn’t rely on it to recommend a specific diet to a patient,” given that people react differently to different diets depending on their biology, said Neil Iyengar, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “I tell patients if they eat more plant-based food, less red meat, decrease alcohol and maintain a healthy weight, they might have a reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence or death.”

The study did not look at the effect of diet on the risk of breast cancer recurrence. A separate study is looking at whether weight loss, achieved through cutting back calories and increasing physical activity, leads to a reduction in the risk of recurrence. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is leading the Breast Cancer Weight Loss Study.

The study comes amid more evidence about the link between being overweight or obese and a number of cancers. Being obese and overweight — long implicated in heart disease and diabetes — has been associated in recent years with an increased risk of getting at least 13 types of cancer, including stomach, pancreatic, colorectal and liver malignancies, as well as postmenopausal breast cancer.

The study will be presented in the coming weeks at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

Source: The Washington Post