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Stop breast cancer. Go on a low-fat diet!

May 17, 2005

Low-fat diets can help reduce the chances of recurrence of breast cancer in women.

What's more, a new study suggested that a lifestyle change can also fend off any type of tumour.

News that Australia's biggest music star Kylie Minogue has been diagnosed with breast cancer shows the disease -- the most common cancer in women worldwide -- can strike at an early age.

A report in the Washington Post drew attention to the study on more than 2,400 middle-aged and elderly women. It found that people who reduced fat content in their diets after undergoing standard treatment for early breast cancer were less likely to suffer a return of tumours in the next five years.

The study: The findings come from the Women's Intervention Nutrition Study, a federally funded study of early stage breast cancer patients in 37 states that began in 1994.

For the study, 975 women went through eight weeks of nutritional counselling about how to cut fat in their diets. Another 1,462 similar women received counselling for how to eat a well-balanced diet without specific guidance to reduce fat intake.

On average, women who received the low-fat counselling reduced the percentage of their daily caloric intake that consisted of fat from 29 percent to 20 percent, whereas the women in the other group did not significantly lower their fat intake.

After an average of five years, 9.8 percent women of the low-fat group experienced a recurrence compared to 12.4
percent of the other group. The women in the low-fat diet group also experienced a 24 per cent reduction in risk.

Surprisingly, the risk reduction was even greater for women whose cancers were not sensitive to the hormone estrogen. Their risk fell by about 42 percent.  

The findings: "Many breast cancer survivors are looking for things they can do to improve their chances. Now, we have evidence that women can play a role in the management of their disease," said Rowan T Chlebowski of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, who led the study.

Experts say the study provided powerful evidence that people could control the risk of cancer through a lifestyle change such as better eating habit and physical exercise.

"For the first time, we have scientific data about what patients can do for themselves as a lifestyle change that can
significantly improve their chances," said Charles Balch, executive vice president, American Society of Clinical
Oncology.

But experts said the findings needed to be confirmed by additional research.

What you can do: "I think women with their physicians can consider taking this step along with their standard care," Peter Greenwald, director of the division of cancer prevention at the National Cancer Institute, said.

Some experts and patient advocates, however, worry that the findings could create the impression that people have
more control over whether they get cancer or suffer recurrences than they do, prompting feelings of guilt and
blame.

© Copyright 2005 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.

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