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4 Common Myths Patients Believe About Breast Cancer & Nutrition

Many people suffering from breast cancer are interested in maintaining a healthy diet, but there’s a ton of misinformation floating around, so separating fact from fiction can be tricky for patients.

Many patients diagnosed with breast cancer are interested in maintaining a healthy diet. But unfortunately, there’s so much incorrect information nowadays that separating fact from fiction can be tricky. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Florence Health spoke to Cara Anselmo, a registered dietitian and breast cancer nutritionist, to learn about some of the most common breast cancer nutrition myths among patients today.

Soy Based Foods

A quick Google search for “breast cancer and soy” yields thousands of results, many proclaiming that breast cancer patients should not eat soy and that soy consumption increases breast cancer risk. But according to the American Institute for Cancer Research, soy foods may lower cancer risk. Ms. Anselmo notes that it’s okay for women with breast cancer or a history of breast cancer to eat tofu. “A lot of the abundant literature has shown that’s not a concern,” she explains. Meanwhile, while the consensus is that whole, soy-based foods are okay, further research is still needed on the potential health impact of consuming soy protein isolates and supplements. 


Wellness companies market to cancer patients with convincing messages that their products will cure ailments or help manage symptoms but lack the literature to support such claims. “The companies … can be very convincing and make it seem like products are going to be beneficial, when they actually probably aren’t likely to have any benefit, and in fact could do more harm than good,” Anselmo says. 

Some supplements can even interfere with treatment, mainly when there’s direct drug-nutrient interaction. “Turmeric or curcumin in supplement form does have direct drug nutrient interactions with certain types of chemotherapy,” Anselmo says. In other cases, taking a multivitamin may reduce the efficacy of certain types of treatment. For these reasons, remind patients to speak with a healthcare provider before taking any supplements during or following treatment.

A Healthy Lifestyle 

Many people believe if they eat a nutritious diet, exercise, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, they’ll never get cancer. Conversely, those who have had cancer often believe that if they stay healthy, they can prevent cancer from returning. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Anselmo says she regularly sees patients who eat healthfully, exercise, and live a healthy lifestyle yet still have a breast cancer diagnosis. “Some individuals blame themselves because they think, ‘Wow, I must have done something to make this happen,’ when in fact it was nothing they did wrong at all,” she says.

The Sugar and Cancer Connection 

Many breast cancer patients have heard the phrase “sugar feeds cancer” at some point, but Anselmo explains that this issue is far more complicated than it sounds. Sugar doesn’t make cancer grow more quickly, nor will avoiding sugar slow cancer growth. Excess consumption of added sugars is correlated with weight gain, which may put someone at increased risk for breast cancer.

Helping Patients Thrive

Some breast cancer patients seek nutritional guidance to help improve symptoms during treatment or manage side effects from treatment. Others might look for nutrition information to reduce their risk of disease recurrence or progression. Many want help managing or losing weight post-treatment since weight gain is typical following breast cancer treatment.

All of these are valid concerns, Anselmo explains. Here are a few ways you can guide your patients toward proper nutrition while they’re fighting breast cancer or in remission:

Advise a Healthy Diet 

Anselmo recommends a mostly plant-based diet made primarily of whole foods. This includes at least a few servings of vegetables daily, fresh fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and legumes. Meanwhile, patients should minimize added sugars, processed and red meat, and alcohol, as increasing research shows that these are associated with cancer risk. It’s also essential to ensure patients stay hydrated during treatment and get enough protein. Protein-rich foods include eggs, beans, nuts, tofu, fish, and whole grains like quinoa. If patients find water unpalatable, encourage them to squeeze in some lemon or try some flavored seltzer water. Finally, don’t forget to discuss drug-nutrient interactions with patients.

Recommend Maintaining a Healthy Weight 

“In general, if people can avoid weight gain to begin with, that’s best,” Anselmo says. She also stresses the importance of speaking to patients early on and often about maintaining a healthy weight. Remember that a “healthy weight” varies from person to person. “In some cases, we’re really trying to maximize calorie and protein consumption,” Anselmo says. In others, you may be helping manage weight gain and newly diagnosed diabetes.

Provide Patients with Nutritional Resources

Most hospitals have registered dietitians on staff who are available to answer questions and provide nutritional guidance for breast cancer patients. It’s important to ensure patients know this is an option so they have reliable nutrition information. “That’s generally a service that should be available, versus [patients] going and buying all of the different books and reading all of the different websites that put information out there that might be well-meaning, but isn’t always as accurate,” Anselmo says.

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