Radiation treatment (radiotherapy) can result in side effects such as short-term fatigue, short-term and long-term skin damage, and injury to the heart and lungs. While obtaining relief from these side effects obviously is desirable, it is very important for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment to avoid consuming foods or taking supplements that will lessen the cytotoxic impact of radiation on breast cancer cells.
Therefore, the diet we recommend during radiation treatment is to consume the foods that enhance the effectiveness of radotherapy, as well as those on the neutral food list (listed later in this article), while limiting or avoiding the foods that should not be consumed while undergoing radiation treatment, as well as those on our general avoid list. Please also see our article on the latest research on radiation treatment for information on types of radiation, impact on prognosis, and side effects.
Foods that enhance the effectiveness of radiation treatment
The following are good sources of compounds (apigenin, curcumin, epigallocatechin-gallate (EGCG), quercetin, resveratrol, melatonin and vitamin D) that have been shown to increase the anti-cancer effects of radiation treatment (i.e., to increase the cancer cells' radiosensitivity) or, in the case of flaxseed, to protect against radiation damage without reducing the treatment's effectiveness:
Recent research suggests that limiting calories to some extent could heighten the treatment effects of radiation treatment. Also, one study reported that cholesterol-lowering drugs could result in less radiation resistance among inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) patients who undergo postmastectomy radiotherapy.
Foods and other products that should not be used during radiation treatment
Most of the foods and supplements listed below are good sources of compounds that have been found to protect cells against radiation treatment (i.e., they are radioprotective), which means that they might enable breast cancer cells to survive radiation. Lavender and tea tree oil are known breast cancer promoters, yet are used in some skin care products and inhalation aromatherapy during radiation treatment. The following should not be consumed or used during radiation treatment:
Neutral foods for use during radiation treatment
We have provided the list below in order to increase the number of foods that can be consumed while undergoing radiotherapy. It includes some foods for which we do not have enough information to put on our general recommended list, but that do not appear to promote breast cancer or interfere with radiation treatment (when consumed in moderation). It is important not to drive up blood sugar and insulin levels with high carbohydrate/low fiber meals. Consume the foods below in moderation, but concentrate on the foods that enhance the effectiveness of radiation treatment above.
Food should not be deep fried, barbequed, pan fried at high heat, roasted or smoked. The best cooking methods for starchy foods are steaming, boiling and baking. Very little salt should be used in preparing food.
We caution against taking apigenin, curcumin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), quercetin, melatonin or resveratrol in supplement form because of the possibility of unintended consequences. Safe and effective dosages for these supplements during radiation treatment have not been established. Please see our article on how to optimize your breast cancer diet for information on what to eat during all stages of treatment and recovery.
Below are links to recent studies on this topic. For a more complete list of studies, please click on radiation treatment.