Magazine article Science News

Dietary Fat Predicts Breast Cancer's Course

Magazine article Science News

Dietary Fat Predicts Breast Cancer's Course

Article excerpt

Many women who undergo surgery to remove a malignant breast tumor live in fear that cancer will return. Now, a study by a team of Swedish investigators suggests that a low-fat diet may help women avoid a recurrence of this disease, which will kill more than 46,000 women in the United States this year.

Epidemiologists have long pondered whether a low-fat diet can prevent breast cancer from appearing in the first place. Rather than focus on the cause of breast cancer, however, epidemiologist Lars-Erik Holm, then at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, and his colleagues wondered if fat intake could change the course of the disease.

Holm, now at the National Institute of Public Health in Stockholm, and his co-workers studied 220 women who had surgery to remove a malignant breast tumor. At the time of surgery doctors analyzed a snippet of each patient's tumor to learn whether it had protein receptors that bind with the sex hormone estrogen. After their surgery, women in the study received adjuvant therapy such as radiation, chemotherapy, or hormonal treatment with the drug tamoxifen. Such adjuvant therapy helps reduce the risk of cancer recurrence in the breast and in other parts of the body

Next, the researchers sent a nutritionist to each woman's home. The nutritionist asked about diet and food preparation habits (such as the use of cooking oil) during the year prior to the patient's diagnosis.

The team then monitored the subjects for at least four years and noted all reappearances of cancer. A statistical analysis revealed that fat intake did influence the outcome of breast cancer treatment, but only in women who had tumors with lots of estrogen receptors.

In the Jan. 6 Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the team reports that women with estrogen-rich tumors who had eaten fatty foods before surgery (and presumably afterward) were more likely to suffer a return of the disease than women with estrogen-rich tumors who had a less fatty diet. …

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