What should breast cancer patients eat during radiation treatment?
Radiation 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 strategy we recommend during radiation treatment is to consume the foods recommended below, as well as those listed on the bland radiation diet (also below), while limiting or avoiding the foods that should not be consumed during radiation (as well as those on our avoid list). It is important not to drive up blood sugar and insulin levels with high carbohydrate/low fiber meals. Recent research suggests that limiting calories to some extent could heighten the treatment effects of radiation treatment. 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 its effectiveness:
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 used during radiation treatment:
- Multivitamins & antioxidant supplements
- Red wine
- Soybean paste
- Soy protein isolate
- Tea tree oil
Bland diet for use during radiation treatment
The list below de-emphasizes high-antioxidant and antimutagenic foods such as brightly colored fruits and vegetables, while featuring bland, as well as somewhat bitter-tasting foods, that do not promote cancer (when consumed in moderation). Select as wide a variety of these foods as possible and consume any one of them in moderation in addition to the foods recommended above.
We caution against taking apigenin, curcumin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), quercetin, 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.
Below are links to recent studies on this topic. For a more complete list of studies, please click on radiation treatment.