Diet can help with advanced breast cancer, study suggests

May 28, 2024 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Diet can help with advanced breast cancer, study suggests

Women with breast cancer who exclusively ate a whole-foods, plant-based diet lost weight, improved cholesterol levels and other key metabolic factors, had less fatigue, and perceived that they felt sharper mentally and generally more well.

These results come from a small randomized controlled trial conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Wilmot Cancer Institute.

Study participants were individuals with stage 4 breast cancer, who will be on lifelong treatment.

Patients with stage 4 breast cancer are typically excluded from dietary studies, but with their survivorship numbers growing, the researchers saw it as an opportunity to make an impact both short- and long-term.

About the study

The study included 30 patients who were on stable treatment and could tolerate food.

Researchers randomly divided participants into two groups: One received standard care, and the intervention group ate meals provided by the research team for eight weeks.

The intervention diet consisted solely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains (including whole grain pasta), legumes (beans and lentils), potatoes and nuts and seeds.

Participants agreed to avoid animal-based foods (meat, eggs, and dairy), and all oils and added solid fats. They also took a daily multivitamin.

No calorie restriction was involved. Individuals were encouraged to eat as often as they wanted of food that was “on plan.”

Weekly assessments occurred, and the study reported 95 percent compliance.

The findings

The women started with an average BMI of 29.7. Participants in the whole-foods plant-based group lost one to two pounds per week for eight weeks, without mandated exercise.

This is significant because individuals with breast cancer often gain weight during treatment, which is risky. Too much body weight increases insulin levels and hormones (estrogen and testosterone) in the blood, which can fuel cancer.

Another encouraging study result: researchers saw a reduction in blood samples of IGF-1, a growth hormone that has been associated with many common cancers, including breast cancer.

“Although we cannot say anything yet about whether the diet can stop cancer progression from this small study, we saw preliminary results that suggest favorable changes within the body, which is very positive,” the lead researcher said.

Next steps

To better understand the implications for cancer growth, the team is collaborating with another research team in a bench-to-clinic investigation recently funded by the American Cancer Society.

Scientists know that cancer cells rely on amino acids to survive, and the patients who followed the plant-based diet had changes in their blood levels of amino acids.

They are studying the effect of amino acid composition on cancer cell survival, and the effect of the amino acids on various cancer drugs.

The journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment published the primary study, which is believed to be the first of its kind.

How to start making healthy changes

Patients should first consult with their oncologists or healthcare providers before making major dietary changes.

This is especially important for people who take blood thinners or insulin medications.

Examples of food provided in the breast cancer clinical trial included peanut soba noodles, steel cut oatmeal, banana flax muffins, sweet potato enchiladas and Mediterranean white bean soup.

To get started with plant-based recipes and meal ideas that are simple and affordable, the researchers recommends these websites:, and

Whether a person makes dramatic changes overnight, or simply decides to swap out an occasional meal in favour of a plant-based recipe can be a good choice.

Source: Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, March 6, 2024

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.