Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer might benefit from a healthier diet that includes foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and minimizes refined foods and red meat, according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Although this diet was not shown to impact breast cancer-related outcomes, it was associated with a decreased risk of overall death and death from causes other than breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States, with approximately 180,000 cases diagnosed each year. Researchers continue to evaluate environmental factors, such as diet, that influence the development of breast cancer. Numerous studies have provided a wealth of often-contradictory information about the detrimental and protective factors of different foods. High fruit and vegetable consumption has been associated with a reduced risk for developing at least 10 different cancers. Studies evaluating the influence of diet on breast cancer prognosis have produced inconsistent results.
Researchers from California and Utah assessed a cohort of 1,901 women from the Life After Cancer Epidemiology (LACE) Study who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer between 1997 and 2000. Upon entering the study, the women completed a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ). The researchers used the data from the FFQs to identify two dietary patterns among the women: a prudent diet included high intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and poultry, whereas a Western diet included high intakes of red and processed meats and refined grains. The researchers then evaluated the rates of recurrence, overall death, death from breast cancer, and death from causes other than breast cancer. As of May 2008, there were 268 breast cancer recurrences and 226 deaths, 128 of which were attributed to breast cancer.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that women who followed the prudent diet had a statistically significant decreased risk of overall death and death from non–breast cancer causes, whereas those who followed the Western diet had an increased risk of overall death and death from non–breast cancer causes. Neither dietary pattern was associated with a risk of breast cancer recurrence or death from breast cancer. Because the prudent diet was associated with a decreased risk of overall death, the researchers concluded that “women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer may benefit from dietary patterns that include healthier foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and poultry and less consumption of red meat and refined foods.”
 Kwan ML, Weltzien E, Kushi LH, et al. Dietary patterns and breast cancer recurrence and survival among women with early-stage breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. Early online publication December 29, 2008.