Foods to Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence Risk

Diet can also help prevent the disease and support treatment

A breast cancer diet incorporates foods with cancer-fighting properties and helps promote a healthy weight. While no diet can promise to prevent breast cancer or eliminate the chances of recurrence, taking control of your diet can reduce your exposure to ingredients that may increase the risk of cancer and increase your intake of healthy nutrients that can benefit your overall health.

That said, evidence about links between diet and cancer is often limited to laboratory or animal studies and is often not specific to breast cancer prevention or prevention of recurrence.

foods that may reduce breast cancer risk
Verywell / Alexandra Gordon

The Power of Plants

Most cancer treatment experts recommend a plant-based diet. Filling your plate with plants means you'll be getting a diet that is high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. These foods also offer plant-based compounds such as polyphenols, which may help prevent and treat cancer through direct effects on cellular processes, and antioxidants, which can reduce oxidative-stress damage to cells.

A 2019 study suggested that a diet high in polyphenols led to a major reduction of inflammation in people with breast cancer.

Fiber intake has been associated with a lower risk of estrogen and progesterone receptor-positive breast cancer, but the data is weak and inconsistent.

In addition, a plant-based diet rich in whole, unprocessed grains, nuts, beans, vegetables, and fruit is beneficial for balancing blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy weight. Keeping a healthy weight over the course of your life is important for cutting cancer risk, including the risk of breast cancer—as a higher body weight means higher circulating estrogen levels. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, breast cancer survivors who are overweight are more likely to see a recurrence of cancer.

Try spreading your servings out through multiple meals and snacks—even at breakfast.

American Cancer Society Recommendations

The American Cancer Society recommends at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit every day. This recommendation is a guide to help prevent the occurrence of cancer in general, not specifically breast cancer—and it doesn't address recurrence.

Cruciferous Vegetables

While all vegetables are considered healthy, there are several that may be especially beneficial for cancer prevention. Vegetables in the Brassica family contain sulfur compounds, which may have cancer-fighting properties that can be an effective complement to standard cancer therapy for preventing a recurrence.

Sulfur-containing vegetables include:

  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Arugula
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bok choy
  • Watercress

Soy and Legumes

Soybeans and soy products have become much maligned over the years with regard to breast cancer risk. Recent research, however, reinforces that soy's isoflavones (plant forms of estrogen) may help prevent breast cancer—if they're introduced before puberty.

When consumed over a lifetime, these plant estrogens can help modulate estrogen absorption in the body, actually blocking estrogen receptors.

The isoflavone genistein might be cancer-protective, acting as an antioxidant. However, too much genistein (for example, from supplements) may trigger tumor development, especially if taken as an adult or if you've previously had estrogen receptor-positive cancer.

Because there are so many mixed messages about soy and its components when it comes to breast cancer, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about recommendations if you have breast cancer or if you know you are at risk of breast cancer.

Other beans and members of the legume family are nutritious, low in fat, high in protein, and rich in antioxidants and saponins. While they're not purported to prevent breast cancer specifically, they can be helpful for those trying to reach or maintain a healthy weight or improve their health in general.

Good choices include:

  • Beans such as garbanzos, black beans, kidney beans, etc.
  • Peas
  • Lentils, including green, black, brown, and red
  • Peanuts

Berries and Citrus

Many fruits, especially fiber-rich berries and citrus, have multiple anti-cancer features including high amounts of folate, vitamin C, polyphenols, and antioxidants. Each of these compounds may have a direct effect on cancer prevention and may be helpful in reducing the risk of recurrence.

Bean and citrus sources include:

  • Cranberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Apples
  • Lemon
  • Peaches
  • Grapefruit

Herbs and Spices

Several herbs and spices have even been considered as potentially health-promoting, but should never be used as a first-line treatment in place of traditional medical care. For best results, consume herbs and spices alongside a healthy diet and in conjunction with standard medical treatment.

Possibly beneficial herbs and spices include:

  • Cinnamon
  • Curcumin
  • Black pepper
  • Ginger

Fatty Fish

Most experts agree that adding fish to your diet three times per week is more effective than taking a supplement.

Consider swapping a serving (or more) of red meat for these fatty fish:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Sardines

Coffee and Green Tea

A prospective study found that women who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had a slightly lower instance of breast cancer than those who drank two cups or fewer.

Other studies have found a correlative effect between drinking coffee and increased breast cancer risk. This may be due to the fact that women who are more likely to drink coffee may also be more likely to drink alcohol or smoke—two habits also strongly correlated with increased cancer risk. More research is needed.

Foods to Limit or Avoid

Some foods have a direct impact on your cancer risk while others are linked to weight gain, which in turn raises your risk of cancer. It's well worth reviewing this list of what to limit or outright avoid.

Red Meat

Several studies have suggested that the type of saturated fat found in red meat and other animal byproducts may result in the development of breast cancer. As such, daily servings of red meat and processed meats (e.g., hot dogs, lunch meats) should be limited. Instead, build your plate around vegetables and consider meat a condiment, or cook it only on special occasions—especially if your favorite meat dishes are cooked at very high heats (such as when frying, broiling, or grilling). These elevated temperatures can cause toxic byproducts called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) to form, which may be carcinogenic.

Sugar and Sodas

While artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin) don't seem to increase cancer risk in humans, the diet sodas in which they're used are linked with weight gain and altered immune function. To reduce your risk, avoid excess refined sugar and foods sweetened artificially in favor of small amounts of natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, stevia, and monk fruit.

Salt

Consuming high levels of salt or eating foods that have been preserved by curing may lead to increased risk of stomach, nasopharyngeal, and throat cancer. The moderate use of salt with food has not been shown to cause cancer, though reducing your overall sodium intake from processed and packaged foods may be helpful for general risk reduction.

Alcohol

Alcohol is a known carcinogen, and any alcohol intake should be modest or eliminated to keep your risk of cancer low.

Most experts recommend that breast cancer survivors either abstain from alcohol consumption or limit intake to no more than one drink per day (even better, just a few drinks per week).

A Word From Verywell

It's certainly rewarding to build good nutrition habits that can reduce your risk of cancer or its recurrence. While it's not always easy to make sweeping shifts in your diet, small efforts (for example, skipping the bacon in your breakfast sandwich, or only drinking wine on the weekends) can make a big difference not only for your cancer risk but for your overall health and wellbeing. If you're having trouble managing an anti-cancer diet, consider seeing a nutritionist.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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