This is a bit of a minefield with many people, patients, nutritionists and medical experts having very strong, but opposing views, which makes it really confusing for us patients! Who should we believe?!! I’m afraid I don’t have the answers, but here’s my view to throw into the mix!
When I was first diagnosed I was given a whole heap of books from very well-meaning friends and family, but all it did was ended up confusing and overwhelming me. Some of them had very frightening names and in my fragile state all they did was end up terrifying me that each thing I was putting in my mouth was going to kill me! The two most common are Your Life in Your Hands by Professor Jane Plant and Anti Cancer – A New Way of Life by Dr David Servan-Schreiber, but there are many, many more out there. A very, very brief summary is that Prof. Jane Plant advocates no dairy or red meat and Dr David Servan-Schreiber recommends avoiding sugar, dairy and red meat (among other foods) while increasing your intake of a list of foods including green tea and soy. However, other studies suggest that soy increases your risk of developing cancer or recurrence, and that dairy helps prevent recurrence and is fine in the UK as our cows aren’t pumped full of oestrogen like they are in some countries!! AAGH! What to do?! Who to believe?!
I asked a few oncologists when I was having my mini-panic and was told that the most important thing was to have a balanced diet and not to deny your body important vitamins and minerals, particularly during treatment (remembering that we need to be careful with supplements). They realised the importance of us, as patients, wanting to take some control ourselves so were happy for me to go dairy-free, but stressed the importance of ensuring that I had to consume enough calcium to protect my bones and teeth due to the increased risk of osteoporosis during treatment.
I then went to a couple of seminars on diet and nutrition at the Haven and at the Breast Cancer Care forum – and they also advocated a balanced diet rather than a dairy-free diet. The BCC nutritionist (who’d had cancer herself) recommended a book called The Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Diet by Dr Michelle Harvie. It’s a good read – and a diet that I felt would be very easy to adapt to (and therefore stick to!). It follows the same lines as Dr Susan Love‘s recommendation of eating “an abundance of food from plants, moderate amounts of cheese and yoghurt, weekly consumption of small to moderate amounts of fish and poultry, limited sweets and red meat and a low to moderate consumption of wine”. This balanced diet wont starve your body of any important vitamins and minerals and is proven to help you lose or maintain your weight and decrease mortality from many causes, of which breast cancer is only one.
You need to make your own informed choice as to whether and how you are going to adapt your diet. I decided to follow the diet guidelines that would fit into my lifestyle best, that I would stick to and, quite frankly, that I would enjoy the most. During treatment I opted to avoid dairy and got really into juicing – but didn’t beat myself up when I was a bit naughty. There were times when I was feeling nauseous or had the yucky taste in my mouth – and at those times I just ate what I fancied. Now that I have finished the most active treatment, I am doing my best to get back to a healthy BMI by following a healthy, balanced diet as one thing EVERYONE agrees on is that being overweight increases your risk of recurrence.