This year I have chosen to fund a project by a researcher whose work I have been following with great interest for years. Lilian Thompson, PhD, Professor in the Nutritional Sciences Department at The University of Toronto, has been working with the effects of flaxseeds on breast cancer (among other types of studies) for well over a decade and is considered the expert in this important area of work.
Her current project will be done with mice, but it involves the potential effects of flaxseed in women who have HER2 breast cancer while using the anti-cancer drug Herceptin. I have included her abstract which summarizes the study and its potential beneficial outcomes for these women.
"Interactive effect of flaxseed and trastuzumab (Herceptin) in reducing the growth of human breast tumors over expressing HER2"
Breast cancer with high levels of HER2, a growth factor receptor, is associated with high risk of relapse and death because it is aggressive and harder to treat than other breast cancers. Trastuzumab (TRAS; also called herceptin), its primary drug, is expensive and a side effect is cardiac toxicity. Also, tumors develop resistance to TRAS and regrow within a year so there is a need to enhance or prolong the effectiveness of TRAS.
Dietary flaxseed has been shown to reduce tumor growth and HER2 levels in breast cancer patients and in mice and therefore we suggest that flaxseed may complement the effect of TRAS. Our aim is to determine in mice with established human breast tumors that express high levels of HER2 whether dietary flaxseed in combination with TRAS treatment is more effective than TRAS treatment alone in reducing the tumor growth and to determine how flaxseed is able to accomplish it.
Mice with tumors of the same average size will be fed flaxseed diet and given twice weekly TRAS treatment, alone and in combination. The growth of palpable tumors will be monitored weekly and after 8 weeks treatment tumors will be analyzed for many biomarkers of tumor growth and pathways that lead to tumor growth.
If the study shows that flaxseed can reduce the growth of human tumors over expressing HER2 and can enhance the effect of TRAS, it could lead to a simple, inexpensive, complementary treatment of breast cancer that overexpress HER2 and thus help prolong lives.
My endowment at AICR (officially called The Diana Dyer Cancer Survivors' Nutrition Research Endowment) specifically supports research funded by AICR that focuses on nutritional strategies for cancer survivors (i.e. any time after a diagnosis as opposed to primary prevention) in order to optimize their odds for long-term survival. Therefore this project by Dr. Thompson fits perfectly with my mission. In fact, including flaxseeds into a diet is also tasty and therefore has the bonus of increasing quality of life, too, in addition to length of life.
Endowments are long-term commitments, so funding for this type of necessary and important nutritional research for cancer patients will be available for a long, long time to come. In fact, the reason I established an endowment (as opposed to just an annual donation) is because this funding will certainly out-last my book, no matter if I choose to stop publishing it after this most recent reprinting or keep going yet again.
As I have since 1995, I still eat some flaxseeds nearly every single day, either in my morning smoothie or my home-made granola. In addition, I also add them to salads, breads or muffins, bean burgers, and the list just goes on and on, as I am always thinking if flaxseeds could be added to whatever I am making from scratch.
Don't wait for the research to be done for adding some ground flaxseeds to your daily diet for overall good health. They have been an ancient food (in addition to the flax plant being the source of linen), so I hope you will enjoy them in a variety of ways on a regular basis. Everything old is new again. :-)
"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"
Diana Dyer, MS, RD