Could A Mediterranean Diet Reduce Your Chance of Breast Cancer?

It seems there's almost no end to the health benefits a Mediterranean diet can provide; it can protect your heart, improve memory, and apparently cut your chances of developing one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer.

A ground-breaking study carried out by the World Cancer Research Fund has found that a diet rich in olive oil, fish, fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains can reduce your risk of oestrogen-receptor-negative (ER-negative) breast cancer. They tracked the diets of over 60,000 women over the span of two decades and found that the highest-defined Mediterranean diet could reduce ER-negative breast cancer cases by a third. It does not appear to have the same effect on other forms of breast cancer, with only a potential 2.3% of cases being avoidable through this diet.

What is ER-negative breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with over 53,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

According to Dr Panagiota Mitrou, Director of Research Funding at World Cancer Research Fund: “This important study showed that following a dietary pattern like the Mediterranean Diet, could help reduce breast cancer risk – particularly the subtype with a poorer prognosis. With breast cancer being so common in the UK, prevention is key if we want to see a decrease in the number of women developing the disease."

Hormone receptors are proteins found in cells that can promote growth among the cancer. ER-negative means that there are no hormone receptors found in the cancer cells.

ER-negative accounts for around 30% of breast cancer cases and is considered more deadly and harder to treat than other forms of the disease. Although genetic risk is often a prominent factor in the development of breast cancer, it's estimated that 40% of all cancers are linked to lifestyle. Alcohol contributes considerably to the number of breast cancer cases.

Diet and health

We're still only scratching the surface on how powerful our diet is in relation to our health. For instance, according to Miss Tania Adib, Consultant Gynaecologist of Twenty-five Harley Street day clinic, the Asian diet has been linked to fewer menopausal symptoms due to the high oestrogen content in soybeans.  She said: “One study showed that 64 per cent of British women reported suffering from tiredness, compared to just six per cent of those from Japan. When it comes to those aches and pains that seem to become more prevalent in the menopausal years, 54 percent of British women reported these were a problem – but just 14 percent of Japanese women complained of these.” Another example is that alcohol is thought to massively increase your risk of multiple cancers, and if nobody drank alcohol, almost 12,000 cases of breast cancer could be avoided every year.

Although diet can massively increase your risk of certain diseases, and help protect you against others, it's important to remember that it's never a guarantee. Emma Pennery, Clinical Director at Breast Cancer Care, commented on the findings,

“This study adds to evidence that a healthy diet, full of ‘good’ low-saturated fats, plays a part in lowering risk of the disease. However, it’s important to remember while lifestyle choices like eating a well-balanced diet and taking regular exercise can help reduce the risk of cancer, they don’t guarantee prevention.”

Being aware of what symptoms to look for is crucial in early diagnosis and give you the best prognosis possible.  

Abnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
The process of determining which condition a patient may have. Full medical glossary
One of the three main food constituents (with carbohydrate and protein), and the main form in which energy is stored in the body. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of genetic material carried on chromosomes. Full medical glossary
Relating to the genes, the basic units of genetic material. Full medical glossary
A substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect. Full medical glossary
Relating to the menopause, the time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle. Full medical glossary

The time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle, and her periods cease

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A hormone involved in female sexual development, produced by the ovaries. Full medical glossary
An assessment of the likely progress of a condition. Full medical glossary
Compounds that form the structure of muscles and other tissues in the body, as well as comprising enzymes and hormones. Full medical glossary
A group within a group. Full medical glossary