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Breast Cancer

Role of Diet and Counseling in Cancer Prevention

We instinctively accept that if we eat healthier—less red meat and trans fats—we will decrease our chance of having a heart attack.  It makes sense. We have all seen pictures of fat clogging our arteries on TV and in magazines. We also instinctively accept that if we eat too much sugar our diabetes will get worse.  
 
It is not instinctive, however, that making lifestyle changes can affect tumor growth and cancer patient survival.
 
Many times lifestyle changes such as diet and counseling are recommended for cancer patients undergoing tough therapies like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These are often recommended to help the patient tolerate the therapy better and to feel better overall, which they do. However, what we don’t often know is that these changes can perhaps make therapies work better, decrease the cancer and allow us to live fuller lives for a longer period of time.
 
For example, a study was conducted where patients with advanced breast cancer were randomly assigned to two groups: One group received counseling for 90-minutes weekly and was taught self-hypnosis; the other group was the control group and received none of the above measures.  Both groups received standard active treatment.  The group that received counseling and self-hypnosis instruction doubled their survival. Many chemotherapy drugs in oncology cannot boast that statistic.1
 
Another study randomly assigned prostate cancer patients who had very early prostate cancer to a lifestyle arm versus a control arm. The patients on the lifestyle arm adopted a lifestyle of a low-fat, plant-based diet, with exercise and group therapy sessions; they were also given instruction on stress management. After following these patients, 27 percent of the control arm required surgery because their prostate cancer had progressed versus only 5 percent in the lifestyle arm.  More than 5 times the amount of patients had progression of their cancer in the control arm as compared to the lifestyle arm, requiring a surgical intervention.2
 
These two studies are just a few examples of how a change in lifestyle can help you or your loved one live a longer and fuller life with cancer.  So the next time you want to take a walk, practice meditation or choose the healthy food option, do it.  It will make you feel better and live longer.
 
References
 
1. Frattaroli J et al., Ornish D. Clinical events in prostate cancer lifestyle trial: results from two years of follow-up. Urology. 2008 Dec;72(6):1319 23. 
 
2. Spiegel Det al., Effect of psychosocial treatment on survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer. Lancet. 1989 Oct14;2(8668):888-91.

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Last Reviewed: Mar 11, 2015

Rekha  Chaudhary, MD Rekha Chaudhary, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati