According to a recent article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, an increased intake of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of a cancer recurrence in women diagnosed and treated with early breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a common cancer among women in the United States; 200,000 new diagnoses are estimated annually. Although cure rates for early breast cancer following standard therapy remain high, a significant portion of women still experience a cancer recurrence after treatment. Researchers continue to evaluate different patient, disease, and environmental variables in order to determine ways to reduce the risk of a recurrence and ultimately improve long-term outcomes among patients with this disease.

Diet is becoming an area of focus for researchers as studies continue to indicate that lifestyle changes may help patients reduce their risk of developing cancer as well as improve their long-term outcomes if diagnosed with cancer.

Researchers from several medical institutions recently reviewed data from a study evaluating intake of fruits and vegetables and the risk of a cancer recurrence in breast cancer patients. This study included 1,551 women who had been diagnosed with early breast cancer and had been previously treated for their disease. Diet intervention was initiated in March 1995. Fruit and vegetable intake was measured through blood levels of carotenoids (molecules which are found in fruits and vegetables).

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Cancer recurrences or new breast cancers, which were not related to initial breast cancer, were experienced by just 205 women (approximately 8%). Patients with the highest levels of carotenoids had a 43% reduced incidence of a breast cancer recurrence or a new breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest levels of carotenoids in the blood.

The researchers concluded that increased intake of fruits and vegetables significantly reduces the risk of cancer recurrence and new breast cancers among women diagnosed and treated for early breast cancer. These results provide further evidence that diet may play a large role in the prevention or management of cancer. Patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer may try to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables to improve their chances of better long-term outcomes.

Reference: Rock C, Flatt S, Natarajan L, et al. Plasma Carotenoids and Recurrence-Free Survival in Women With a History of Breast Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2005; 23: 6631-6638.

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