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Diet may have bearing on breast cancer, studies show

breast.cancer.gif April 2, 1997
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Dan Rutz

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Two studies offer evidence that what women eat may help protect them from breast cancer.

Canadian researchers, writing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, show that over two years, the breasts of women on low-fat diets become less dense. High breast density increases the risk of breast cancer.

It's too early to say whether the benefit of less dense breasts will translate into a reduced incidence of breast cancer, but researchers say it might.

A second study shows breast tissue can be affected by the type of fat women eat.

Dr. John Glaspy oversees a two-year study at UCLA designed to see what effect strict dieting -- plus soy and fish oil supplements -- might have on keeping women who've had recurrent breast cancer from suffering another relapse.

Glaspy has switched his patients from high-fat American diets to a healthier blend of no- and low-fat entrees.

"There's promise that there's pay dirt here," says Glaspy. "I don't personally think it's going to be the final answer in terms of a treatment for breast cancer, but I kind of hope along the way we eliminate 80 percent of our need to have a way to treat breast cancer."

Glaspy points to studies of women in Japan, whose incidence of breast cancer is one fifth that of Western women.

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"When they migrate, they get the risk of the country to which they migrate within a generation," he says. "That eliminates the possibility that ... the Japanese women's genetics are different."

Now midway through the study, the UCLA researchers say the study volunteers' breast cells contain less Omega 6 oils -- suspected of increasing the risk of breast cancer -- and more Omega 3s -- a healthy fat that may protect the breast.

The study, Glaspy says, has also documented that more dramatic and quick changes occur in the composition of the breast than anywhere else in the body.

Jane Stoll, one of the study participants, is hoping that there's more to the study than encouraging laboratory signs.

Stoll and the others have exhausted all other conventional treatments for recurrent cancer. They are now helping researchers prove whether severe dietary change can actually prevent the return of breast cancer.

"We don't know for how long -- nobody knows that," she said. "But ... if I didn't do this, I think I would be in harm's way."

Within a year the UCLA researchers expect to know if the diet helps women like Stoll. At the very least, Glaspy expects to begin answering the question on most every woman's mind: How can I prevent breast cancer?

   
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