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Diet and Breast Cancer

In industrialized countries, the majority of female deaths are due to breast cancer. Breast cancer is a common, yet deadly disease. It can be characterized by lumps in the breast tissue, breast pain, and change in size, shape, or the overall feel of the tissue.  It is believed that this cancer is caused by both endogenous and exogenous risk factors. Around half of cases are mediated by hormones, both androgens and estrogens. Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on the effect of estrogenic compounds, which may act as chemicals that disrupt normal endocrine functioning, and even have adverse effects on hormone-sensitive organs, especially the breast tissue. Some researchers believe that it would be possible to prevent approximately 9% of breast cancer cases by altering one’s diet, although it is hard to be certain about what needs to be altered. It is also believed that around 5% of cases of breast cancer could be prevented by maintaining a healthy body weight. Foods such as dark, leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes as well as foods rich in vitamin D have been known to help prevent the development or progression of breast cancer.  A study looking at over 91,000 women (the California Teachers Study) showed that a plant-based diet was associated with a 15% decrease in the risk for breast cancer.  For the women with ith estrogen-receptor negative and progesterone-receptor negative (ER-/PR-) tumours, the effect was even more significant.  On the other hand, foods such as red meat, fatty dairy products and alcoholic drinks have been known to promote the progression of the disease.  A diet high in refined sugars has also been shown to lead to the development of mammary gland tumours in mice and makes them also more likely to spread and metastasize. The same researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre have shown that the refined sugar particularly found in Western diets had a crucial role in the inflammation of the breast cancer development.

Recent research published in the Cell Chemical Biology Magazine has shown that certain foods contain estrogen-mimicking compounds, which can drastically reverse the effects of drug combination used in the treatment of breast cancer. The compounds, called xenoestrogens, are found in the BHA food preservative, industrial products and plastics, as well as other ingredients often found in skincare.  The endocrine-disturbing compounds, “mimic endogenous estrogens by binding to and activating estrogen receptors (ERs) and, among other effects, promote mammary cell proliferation, increasing the risk of initiating cell transformation and the development of cancer,” as stated in a study by Lecomte and colleagues (2017).  The association between the estrogen-like compounds and the hormone-dependent cancers is still not clearly known and more research needs to be conducted. To this day, there is little epidemiological research and few studies which examine a possible fetal exposure to the cancers that occur later in adulthood.

Edited by: Kaylynn Crawford and Daryn Dever