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Diet tied to survival in breast cancer patients

Reported March 24, 2009

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women with early-stage breast cancer may live longer if they maintain a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, a new study suggests.

This so-called "prudent" diet was not linked to a lower risk of death from breast cancer specifically. However, researchers found, breast cancer patients who ate this way were less likely to die from other causes over the eight-year study period.

"Consumption of a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and poultry, and low in red meat and refined foods may positively influence a woman's overall health and prevent other cancers and chronic diseases," Dr. Marilyn L. Kwan, a researcher at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, told Reuters Health.

The results are also consistent with past studies suggesting that diet may be a more important factor in general health and diseases other than breast cancer than it is in breast cancer survival specifically, according to Kwan and her colleagues.

The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, are based on 1,901 women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Between 2000 and 2002, the women completed detailed questionnaires on their diet, exercise habits, weight and other health factors. They were then followed for up to eight years.

During that time, 226 women died, with 128 deaths attributed to breast cancer.



Kwan's team found that women who'd reported a prudent dietary pattern at the outset had a lower overall death rate than those who'd reported a more "Western"-style diet -- one high in red and processed meats, snack foods, high-fat dairy and refined grains like white bread.

Women with the highest intakes of healthier foods were about half as likely to die during the study period as women with the lowest intakes, even with other important factors taken into account -- like the initial size of the breast tumor, the treatment type and patients' smoking habits.

Conversely, women with the most Western eating habits had a 53 percent higher risk of death overall than those with the lowest intakes of those foods.

Neither dietary pattern, however, was related to the odds of breast cancer recurrence or to women's risk of dying from the disease. Still, the link between diet and overall survival means that eating healthy is "very much an important factor for breast cancer survivors," Kwan said.

"Women living with breast cancer still want to know how they can improve their overall chances of surviving," she noted, "and as our study shows, eating a more healthful diet is beneficial for overall survival."

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, online December 29, 2008.