Could diet during breast cancer treatment improve results?

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Many breast cancer survivors adopt healthy eating habits after their treatment.

But what you eat during your treatment could help, too.

"Before cancer, I would eat just about anything, you know? I was like 'Burger? Great!'" said Regina Hastings of Port Richmond.

Then, after her diagnosis last spring, Regina got involved a unique study: making a healthy diet a part of standard treatment.

Dr. Nicole Simone of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson says the conventional wisdom has been that cancer patients are under too much stress to worry about changing their diet.

But statistics show breast cancer patients gain an average of 10 pounds in their first year.

"Any weight gain in that first period after treatment is actually linked to increased recurrence," said Dr. Simone.

In Dr. Simone's experiments, patients cut calories by 25% and add more protein, fruits, and vegetables.

"The idea was to go with a plant-based diet. So I replaced a lot of my pasta with zucchini noodles, replaced the burgers with portobello mushrooms," said Regina.

Patients also decrease processed sugars like those in cookies, cakes, and sodas.

"Anything that's going to cause an insulin spike, because those can actually help the tumor to grow," said Dr. Simone.

He says proteins, like nuts, beans, and tofu, decrease those spikes, reduce side effects, and repair some cell damage caused by cancer therapies.

Dr. Simone says patients lost an average of nine pounds, but gained much more.

"Decreasing the calories during the treatment can make the treatments work a lot better, and we found that with both radiation and chemotherapy," he said.

Regina also started running just before her diagnosis -- and says by eating better - she's feeling better all around.

"Improving my diet just made me feel better during my running," she said.

Regina completed the Rock & Roll Half-Marathon last month, and next month she'll run the Philadelphia Marathon.

This Saturday, we hope you'll run or walk with the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk.

It starts at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park.

On-site registration is at 7, and the walk begins at 8:30.

Dr. Simon has 2 studies underway, open to volunteers. For more information on calorie reduction, click here.

For more information on precision nutrition, tailoring the diet to the patient, click here.
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