Supporting women whose lives have been touched by breast cancer

Ten Suggestions (NB: not "commandments") for eating well if you have a hormone-positive breast cancer

by MRB

(These are mainly based on my own experience. For recommendations regarding alcohol consumption, you must look elsewhere, as it is not clear whether the known risks apply equally to all types of breast cancer.)

1. If in doubt, first check with your own BCN or oncologist... before searching the Internet! A search will probably lead you to websites where someone is trying to sell you a product, rather than giving information relevant to your own nutritional needs.

2. When on chemotherapy, don't even think of taking ANY supplement unless it is prescribed (e.g. pyridoxine, which is a megadose of vitamin B6, to counteract side effects of capecitabine - or calcium supplements for bones).

3. Antioxidants in general are a Good Thing, but again, check with your medical team if unsure. Some research has indicated that megadoses of vitamins C or E can promote tumour growth in some other types of cancer. (Do you take those effervescent vitamin C tablets if you feel a cold coming on?)

4. Regarding soya, the jury is still out at the time of writing (November 2011). The "suspects" are the compounds called soya isoflavones. These can act as "phytoestrogens" (another useful word) and I wouldn't recommend them as supplements. Isoflavones are found in whole soya beans and products made from whole beans, including tofu, soya milk, and soya flour.

5. Other soya products are OK because they don't contain the isoflavones. So there is less worry about soya oil, soya protein (phytoestrogens are not proteins), or soya lecithin (an emulsifier which is found in many food products including chocolate).

6. Some phytoestrogens seem to be good for us and less likely to have oestrogen-like effects, these include "lignans" found in flaxseed (= linseed).

7. There's a recipe for "HRT Cake" - goes under the name of Linda Kearns, or it used to - which contains lots of soya milk and soya flour. It's probably best to get your fix from other cake sources...

8. A little of what you enjoy, occasionally, does no harm. If you have cravings for tofu, or for edamame beans, which are whole soya beans often served with sushi, eat them as a treat for your birthday and Christmas

9. As the years go by since our diagnosis, concerns about what we eat seem to fall into perspective. Effective treatments and good monitoring are more important than being scrupulous about diet. This applies whether it's to help prevent recurrence, or to prolong survival for those of us with secondary disease. I myself do eat healthily most of the time (including dairy).

10. Keep an eye on research: Cancer Research UK is a good place to check out any new findings - they have a Science Blog.