Breast Cancer & Diet

Breast Cancer and Diet

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a concept invented more than 25 years ago by Imperial Chemical Industries with the curious mantra “Early Detection Is Your Best Prevention.” Of course early detection (by definition) doesn’t prevent breast cancer at all; it just attempts to mediate the impact of the cancer once it’s already there. As one of the largest producers of petrochemicals and pesticides in the world, the multi-billion dollar chemical company may not have been particularly interested in getting at the root causes, especially after having subsequently developed the leading breast cancer chemotherapy drug.

Breast cancer remains the leading cancer killer of young women in the United States. In recognition of this epidemic, spent last week releasing five new videos highlighting some of the latest research on preventing the disease in the first place.

Monday’s video Cancer Prevention & Treatment May Be the Same Thing underscored the fact that since breast tumors can take decades to grow, “early” detection is actually very late, and in some cases too late. Tuesday’s Vegetables vs. Breast Cancer video, though, points to exciting new research that mushroom consumption may be beneficial for prevention, with Wednesday’s Breast Cancer Prevention: Which Mushroom Is Best? comparing the potential anti-cancer activity of a dozen different types leading to a surprising result. Thursday’s Multivitamin Supplements & Breast Cancer highlighted new research suggesting that multivitamin use may significantly increase the risk of breast (and prostate) cancer, while Friday’s video, Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen, offered a natural strategy to reduce one’s risk. has five dozen videos on women’s health, including many others on breast cancer, suggesting that a plant-based diet may be beneficial in preventing, slowing, and treating breast cancer, despite flawed or deceptive studies to the contrary.

Diets containing less meat may reduce the risk of breast cancer by lowering one’s exposure to anabolic steroids, heterocyclic amines, and industrial pollutants. Dairy contains hormones that may increase breast cancer risk directly, or indirectly by contributing to premature pubertyMelatonin suppression by meat and dairy may also play a role. Eating a half an egg a day has been associated with nearly three times the odds of breast cancer.

There are also some plant foods, though, that one may want to avoid. Kimchi, acrylamide in crispy carbs, and alcohol may increase one’s risk, and from a breast cancer perspective, folate in beans and greens may be preferable to folic acid in pills.

The good news is that numerous vegetables may be protective against breast cancer. The most useful are likely cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage) and allium family vegetables (such as garlic, onions and leeks).

Among fruits, organic strawberries appear to preferably block cancer cell growth and, like other berries, may block breast-cell DNA damage. Apples also appear to reduce breast cancer risk.

Soy foods have the distinction of both helping prevent breast cancer (in part by supporting normal pubertal development) and improving survival, even for women on Tamoxifen.

To further decrease risk of breast cancer, look to daily tea consumption (including a few herbal varieties) flax seeds, black beans, the spice turmeric, and an hour of exercise every day.

Please consider sharing this post with your loved ones to promote lifelong health. This week, daily new videos will focus on colon health (i.e. the scoop on poop).

 – Michael Greger, M.D.

Reposted from; Image credit: Pascal Maramis / Flickr

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to leave any questions you may have about this entry below, and be sure to check out all the videos on breast cancer and women’s health.

  • JJ

    I love this blog post because it is such a good summary of the information and videos available on a topic that I keep coming up against all the time. Instead of trying to pick the best links to send to someone and have links be out of context, I can send this blog post. It’s great!


    • Michael Greger M.D.

      I’m so glad you appreciate it, JJ. What we’re actually working on right now (with your help if you have time!) is coming up with link-dense narrative paragraphs for all the topic pages ( to help folks navigate –stay tuned!

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  • Very interesting article! Funny how we just think ‘hmm thats nice “Early Detection Is Your Best Prevention.” without really thinking about the point made that detection is NOT prevention.. #thingsthatmakeyougohmmm

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  • Victoria Barmak

    As a breast cancer survivor, I am in need of clear information on nutrition.  I have listened to vegans and meat-eaters.  I followed raw/raw vegan.  Then I read literature on macrobiotics and other oriental advice which say vegetables must be cooked/steamed because we do not have the enzymes to digest raw plants.  OK, fine. Then I read what Dr. Mercola says about the necessity of meat and eggs in one’s diet; I read “The Vegetarian Myth”; and read a lot about Paleo eating. They ALL make perfect sense. Now I read about meat and inflammation and I am thoroughly confused. I do not know what to do.  It seems that starving is the best option.  Please help. 

    • M.Harris, RD, LD

       Hi Victoria,

      When you are evaluating nutrition advice, look closely at
      the credentials of the person who is giving it (as well as whether or not they
      might have any particular bias, including those who publish research for
      organizations that are interested in making money, which may be difficult to
      discern in some cases).  Did they study nutrition
      professionally?  As long as I have been a
      registered dietitian, I have been reading study after study about the various
      anticancer benefits of plant foods, largely by virtue of their variety of
      phytonutrients.  These phytonutrients
      (phyto=plant) are most often very powerful antioxidants that inhibit or reduce
      the chronic inflammation that can lead to cancers and other diseases.  More and more studies are published every day
      that show a definite and inarguable link to these phytonutrients and cancer
      prevention.  Animal foods, however, do
      not contain phytonutrients.  Instead, they
      contain injected (and naturally occurring) hormones that have ill effects in
      the human body, antibiotic and pesticide residues, toxins of all kinds,
      cholesterol and saturated fat.  When we
      consume animal foods, we are getting substances that we don’t want, and at the
      same time we are missing out on the substances we do want, simply by
      displacement!  The moral of the story is
      this:  No matter whose advice you choose
      to follow, a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes
      is the foundation of disease prevention, and organic plant foods are especially potent for fighting cancer,
      another fact that is rapidly gaining recognition in the literature!

  • Psvwyderka

    since I was diagnosed with breast cancer last Nov 2011, I have been on a plant base diet(life-style)…my tumors are gone, some shrunk and no signs of growth. I choose not to have chemo or radiation. After I read the book China Study, Dr Campbell said…Drs dont give women the 4th choice for treatment which is plant base diet…but I did and never looking back. I also want to thank Dr Greger on his web site..lots of great info on everyday health.

    • vegan31

      Psvwyderka, I would love to hear how you are doing now. I have recently chosen to treat breast cancer w/o surgery, chemo and radiation.

  • Very relieve to read that all of my favorite veggies and fruit are helping to protect me from the cancer I’m genetically most in risk of getting. Strawberry is my favorite fruit and broccoli is my favorite veggie. Yeey!

  • Christine

    i love your we site. have been learning from it daily ever since i found it!

    I have heard from several sources that 30% of 30 year old women have breast microtumors. but I have been unable to find the source. could you share with us where this figure came from and how you were able to find the source?

  • B of KC

    Do breast cancer cells recognize “sugar alcohols” the same as sugar, and as such use them as fuel?