I have certainly written about the powerful effects of lifestyle choices on the risk of breast cancer, but rarely do studies look at the type of breast cancer.
First, a primer on the types of breast cancer as it relates to receptor type. Cellular receptors sit on either the outside of the cell membrane or on the actual DNA of a cell. When a trigger (like a hormone), lands on one of these receptors, they cause changes in the way a cell behaves. Many of these receptors are set up to receive the messages from hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
When estrogen lands on its receptor, one of the effects is to fire a signal down into the nucleus of the cell causing it to divide over and over again. If this is a tumor cell, that’s going to be a very bad thing. In a estrogen receptor positive breast cancer (ER-positive), that cancer cell produces a lot more estrogen receptors on its surface, leading to a perfect scenario for the progression of the cancer. Treatment of breast cancers that are ER-positive involves the use of drugs like Tomoxifen to block this receptor site.
The role of progresterone receptors (PR) in breast cancer is not as clear and it may have more to do with how the PR intacts and affects the ER. There are no direct treatments for PR+ breast cancer; instead, they fall under the same treatments as ER+ breast cancers noted above.
HER2 is another receptor that is found in higher number in about 20-30% of breast cancer tumors. This receptor also stimulates rapid cell division which would also promote tumor growth. Herceptin is the blockbuster drug that was designed to treat HER2+ breast cancers.
When you hear that a tumor is ER+/PR+, HER2+, triple positive or triple negative, these are the hormones that are referred to. In general, the hormone receptor negative and triple negative breast cancers are harder to treat. Because of this, prevention of these types of cancers is even more important.
Which brings us to this particular article. In it, researchers identified 5 main diet patterns:
- Plant-based diet, high in fruit and vegetables
- High-protein, high-fat diet, high in meats, eggs, fried foods, and high-fat condiments
- High-carbohydrate diet, high in convenience foods, pasta, and bread products
- An ethnic diet, high in legumes, soy-based foods, rice, and dark-green leafy vegetables
- A salad and wine diet, high in lettuce, fish, wine, low-fat salad dressing, and coffee and tea
They used these patterns to evaluate the risk between the risk of breast cancer and these diet patterns. Here’s what they found:
- The plant-based pattern led to a 15% lower risk of breast cancer risk.
- However, for hormone receptor negative tumors, the protection was much greater at 34% lower risk.
- The salad and wine pattern, however, led to a 29% higher risk of ER+/PR+ tumors.
Your first reaction may be to question how a good diet, like salad and wine, could increase the risk of breast cancer. But let’s look at what many consider a “salad.” Iceberg lettuce, maybe a tomato and low fat dressing. What did they replace the fat with in these “healthy” dressings? High fructose corn syrup.
You basically have a diet with some good stuff, but the salads are low-value loaded with high fructose corn syrup. Not really part of a healthy diet when you break it down like that.
Either way, it is clear that the plant based diet pattern made a strong impact on one of the more difficult breast cancers to treat.