While a diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables and de-emphasizing alcohol, red meat and omega-6 fats may reduce the likelihood of breast cancer or its recurrence compared typical U.S. eating patterns, simply following these rules will not maximize the chemopreventive potential of your diet. We do not believe that any diet can cure or successfully treat a diagnosed breast tumor. However, tailoring your food choices to your individual circumstances and breast cancer subtype will take full advantage the potential of your diet to support your breast cancer treatment and help reduce the risk of recurrence. This web page is designed to enable you to customize your food choices using the information in the Food for Breast Cancer website.
How to design your anti-breast cancer diet
Your diet should depend on whether you are at high risk for breast cancer (but not diagnosed with the disease), in active treatment, or a breast cancer survivor. Each of these situations is addressed below. The overall goal is to bathe your normal cells with nutrients that promote healthy growth and cell division. Any new breast cancer cells that do arise are to find themselves in an environment that promotes their death and inhibits their proliferation and migration.
High risk, but not diagnosed with breast cancer
Women at high risk for breast cancer should use the recommended, avoid and alphabetical food lists to select their foods. The goal is to consume a wide variety of chemopreventive foods while limiting cancer-promoting foods. While many breast cancer risk factors (such as early puberty or being tall) cannot be influenced by diet in adulthood, some risk factors can be. The links below are to web pages that provide detailed information and food recommendations for some high-risk circumstances. We have also included information on how to reduce the breast cancer risk of our children.
Benign fibrocystic breast disease
BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation carrier
Parent seeking to minimize breast cancer risk of daughter or son
- How can we protect our daughters from breast cancer? - Prenatal period and infancy
- How can we protect our daughters from breast cancer? - Childhood and puberty
- How can we protect our daughters from breast cancer? - Teenage years and young adulthood
- How can we protect our sons from breast cancer?
Diagnosed with breast cancer
Breast cancer type and subtype
Breast cancer is categorized into two main histological types, ductal and lobular, as well the far less common mucinous carcinoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma and mixed tumors (e.g. ductal plus lobular). Within the ductal category are inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), medullary carcinoma, tubular carcinoma, Piaget's disease of the nipple, and metaplastic carcinoma. Lobular and inflammatory breast cancer patients and survivors should take into account their histological type in determining their diets. All breast cancer patients should take into account hormone receptor subtype in designing their diets, as well as any treatment they may be undergoing.
- Diet for lobular breast cancer patients and survivors
- Diet for inflammatory breast cancer patients and survivors
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) are noninvasive forms of breast cancer which have not infiltrated healthy surrounding tissue but have the potential to do so. DCIS and LCIS patients should also take into account the hormone receptor subtype in designing their diets, as well as any treatment they may be undergoing.
Hormone receptor positive (ER+/PR+) breast cancer
Hormone receptor negative (ER-/PR-) and triple negative breast cancer
Mixed hormone receptor (ER+/PR- or ER-/PR+) breast cancer
- Breast cancer diet for ER+/PR- patients and survivors
- Breast cancer diet for ER-/PR+ patients and survivors
HER2/neu overexpressing (HER2+) breast cancerHER2+ breast cancer should also take into account their histological type and hormone receptor status.
Undergoing treatment for breast cancer
Women undergoing treatment for breast cancer should adopt a healthy diet that emphasizes the specific foods that have been found to increase the effectiveness of the treatments. Below are links to web pages that provide detailed information and food lists for specific treatments:
- Breast cancer diet during radiation treatment
- Breast cancer diet during Adriamycin chemotherapy
- Breast cancer diet during Taxol chemotherapy
- Breast cancer diet during cisplatin chemotherapy
- Breast cancer diet during Herceptin treatment
- Breast cancer diet during aromatase inhibitor treatment
- Breast cancer diet during tamoxifen treatment
Breast cancer survivor
A word about enjoying your food, food variety, and supplements
We would like to say a few words about food and supplements. It is important to enjoy your food because what you eat and drink counts. The idea is to replace the elements of your current diet that promote breast cancer (see foods to avoid) with foods that prevent it (recommended foods) or are neutral. Adding beneficial foods to an unhealthy diet is not likely to make as much difference as an overhaul of your diet which substantially eliminates harmful foods. This can only happen if you enjoy what you eat. For example, if you do not like broccoli, do not eat it. But maybe you might enjoy broccoli sprouts, kale or watercress, which have many of the same chemopreventive characteristics.
Several studies have found that consuming a wide variety of foods is more beneficial in preventing breast cancer than consuming a limited selection. There are synergistic actions between foods, most of which might remain to be discovered. For example, the combination of mushrooms and green tea appears to be more chemopreventive than consuming either alone. Also, simultaneously consuming olive oil and orange vegetables increases the bioavailability of the beta-carotene in the vegetables.
Vitamins and supplements can make sense for deficiency states. For example, it appears to be difficult for most of us to get enough vitamin D through exposure to sunshine and in the diet. Adequate vitamin D is important for breast cancer chemoprevention (however, relatively high doses might not be safe). Similarly, taking high quality fish oil could benefit some of those who wish to increase their ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, although note that taking fish oil is not recommended during treatment.
However, it has been found that cancer can be promoted by large doses of some compounds that are chemopreventive when consumed in foods. Famous examples are beta-carotene and vitamin C. This is one reason why we tend to de-emphasize supplements. Often there appears to be a U-shaped curve in which both low and high levels of a given micronutrient promote cancer but we simply do not have enough information to determine the dosage that aligns with the cancer-preventive sweet spot at the bottom of the curve. It is not that we do not understand the attraction of genistein, DIM, ellagic acid, resveratrol, etc. However, based on the available evidence, consuming micronutrients in pill form whose safety and effective dosage have not been established is as likely to be harmful as helpful. Food is best. However, as noted above, we do not believe that any diet alone is able to effectively treat breast cancer (please see our articles on the raw food diet and food as cancer cure).