To Your Health

I have now made it five years since breast cancer was diagnosed. I consider myself very fortunate and want to do everything I can to stay well and avoid future chemo. Where do I start?

Q. I have now made it five years since breast cancer was diagnosed. I consider myself very fortunate and want to do everything I can to stay well and avoid future chemo. Where do I start?

A. There are now over 8.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. alone, and this number will rise as cancer therapies continue to improve. On May 8, 2002, hundreds of cancer survivors and cancer experts met to discuss the latest scientific information on how diet and lifestyle affect the chances of a reoccurrence of cancer. Decades of research have already produced convincing evidence that diet and other lifestyle factors can influence the risk of first occurrence of cancers, and now science is beginning to focus on how those factors may help survivors stay healthy and free of disease.

Chemotherapy for cancer generates profound physical and emotional changes and most cancer survivors come out of this very difficult experience determined, as you are, to do whatever it takes to stay healthy. Among other things, this means you can no longer choose food solely on the basis of taste and convenience, but must chose on nutritional quality or "nutrient density." The evidence is convincing that a diet based largely on a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans, with fish as the primary protein source, helps reduce cancer risk among individuals who have never had cancer and this diet should also aid in the fight against reoccurrence.

In times past, cancer patients were told to reduce the amount of fat in their diets. We now understand that it is probably more important to look at the type of fat in the diet, not just the total amount. In particular, omega-3 fats from certain fish and monounsaturated fats found in olive or canola oil are important fats to have in the diet to combat the cancer process. These should replace most of the saturated fat and trans-fats that are far too plenteous in the typical American diet.

Information on the use of food supplements in cancer survivors is scant, but most likely a modest supplement of several antioxidants as a team is worthwhile. Those most likely to help include co-enzyme Q-10, vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, and the anthocyanidins, the antioxidants found abundantly in colorful fruits and vegetables. The use of soy products is also still being debated, but inclusion of one or two servings per day of soy products seems prudent.

Progesterone cream is an option for most women, even if their cancer is not hormone-related. Men past age 50 can also use progesterone cream. Estrogen dominance tends to encourage growth of all sorts of cancer, in both women and men.

Surely it goes without saying that destructive habits such as smoking and alcohol abuse must stop. If some help such as a nicotine patch is needed to accomplish your goal of stopping smoking, it is still better than to continue using tobacco in any form.

To summarize:

• Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits.

• Emphasize fish over other protein sources.

• Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active.

• Generally select foods low in salt.

• Choose a diet with modest amounts of the suitable fats.

• Drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all.

• Do not use tobacco in any form.

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