This is a field I don’t know too much about, maybe reading the occasional article or hearing a story, likely related to how nutrition affects cancer growth. But lately, I’m hearing about cancer over and over and I’m feeling compelled to write about what I’m reading. Probably everyone has had someone in their family or community who has been affected by this disease. In my own family, my grandma and a cousin who was my age died from complications of cancer. I had a childhood friend discover a giant tumor in her chest in her early twenties. It feels shocking and common place at the same time.
The first thing I heard was this interview on Fresh Air with Dr. Elisa Port, who specializes in breast cancer treatments. She had some very interesting to say about the latest in breast cancer research and treatments. Some highlights include:
- Mammograms are still an effective way to screen for breast cancer in the general population and people with breasts should be screened beginning at age 40
- 3-D mammograms have the ability to take multiple pictures in different directions and has reduced the number of false positives (thinking there might be a tumor when there isn’t)
- After a mastectomy, most of the sensation in the breast is gone because the nerve endings that connected to the nipple have been removed with the affected breast tissue
- People should consider getting genetic testing for BRCA mutations (these are mutations that dramatically increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer, and ovarian cancer) if: if there is a personal diagnosis of premenopausal breast cancer; if there is a family history of premenopausal breast cancer or ovarian cancer; if there is a family history of breast cancer in men; or if they are of Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern European) decent because the mutation rates are 1:40 in this population, compared with 1:400 in the general population
- BRCA mutations be passed down through the paternal and maternal side of the family
- New drug developments have lead to the ability to customize treatments for a person’s individual cancer type
I recommend listening to the full interview in the link.
Soon after I heard that interview I found this article on a study that supports beginning cancer treatments during pregnancy. The study followed a group of children who had been exposed to cancer-fighting drugs in utero in the last two trimesters of pregnancy, and found that they had normal cognitive and cardiac function. This is surprising because the drugs used to treat many cancers are strong and can affect the cardiac function of the adults who experience the treatments, and we know that the drugs cross the placenta. The researchers recommended against prematurely inducing birth so the person with cancer can begin treatment sooner. Prematurity is associated with cognitive and cardiac abnormalities. Further research needs to be done showing the effects of other chemotherapy drugs and with a larger sample size of children who were exposed in utero. Cancer in pregnancy is rare, affecting approximately 1:1000 people.
Back to breast cancer, a large, 5 year study out of Spain found that eating a Mediterranean plus adding 4 tablespoons of olive oil per day may reduce one’s risk of developing breast cancer. In addition to the benefits of the added olive oil, the Mediterranean diet is plant-based, replacing many desserts with fruit, limits beverages to water or red wine, reduces dairy and red meat is consumed once per week or less. This alone, with an emphasis on eating more fruits and veggies and staying away from processed foods, would have a big impact on overall health, I think. The olive oil group was compared to a group eating a low-fat diet, and another group following a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts instead of olive oil. Food affects us people! Before you go out and grab another three bottles of olive oil for the week, there’s this sad fact – most of it will not be what you think you’re buying. This post has some examples of good olive oils from actual stores that you and I might shop at on a daily basis.