Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cancer and Nutrition Tidbits

I'm clearing out my file of articles (and even some draft posts) saved that had information I thought would be of interest to cancer survivors.  I see that each article is about breast cancer research, however, for my readers with other types of cancer, the information is very likely to be applicable to you, too. So here is the round-up of these tidbits of newsworthy information:

1) Scientists decode many mechanisms by which olive oil reduces breast tumors - some of the cell studies done showed a clear difference between the protective effect of olive oil versus corn oil, which made tumors more aggressive.
Special Note: When I was in graduate school, the recommendation that people use corn oil was all the rage based on research at that time showing benefits for reducing heart disease. However, I threw my last bottle of corn oil away as soon as I really started reading the research focused on nutrition and cancer. Horror of horrors though, I have recently found many restaurants in my area that serve Middle Eastern food use corn oil for their frying because it has a high smoke point and it's cheap.

Take home lessons: (a) Ask, ask, ask, and ask some more questions when you are eating away from home. (b) If you are still using corn oil, replace it with extra-virgin olive oil where ever possible and appropriate (yes, I use it sparingly due to the cost, even where I would love to pour it on!)

2) Postdiagnosis diet quality is inversely related to a biomarker of inflammation among breast cancer survivors
In a nutshell, the higher the quality of diet (i.e. more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans), the lower the blood level of a molecule called c-reactive protein (CRP) found in the blood of breast cancer survivors, which is a marker for inflammation and has been observed to be inversely related to breast cancer survival (i.e., lower levels are associated with longer survival). The benefits were most pronounced in those women who were not engaging in any recreational exercise.

Take home lesson: Ask to have your CRP level checked at your next check-up. Eat well and also exercise on a daily basis to improve your odds for long-term survival and also improved quality of life!

3) Stress before cancer therapy could help deadly cells survive treatment, lead to disease recurrence
Researchers at Ohio State University have done extensive cell culture studies showing a clear indication that breast cancer cells have found a way to adapt and resist both radiation and chemotherapy due to a stress-inducible protein, with this protein being produced by both psychological stress and physical stress such as rigorous exercise. While these are very preliminary studies, the researchers have made the cautionary recommendation that cancer patients do their best to avoid or reduce stress (including vigorous exercise) during the days leading up to their cancer treatments.

Take home lesson: Wow - I know in my case, I only felt well enough to do anything (exercise, grocery shop, cook, run errands, you name it) during the one or two days prior to my treatments so I tried like crazy to get it all done, cram it all in, do any exercise at all, which of course was stressful! So DON'T do what I did - continue to have others help you as much as possible all the way through treatments in order to optimize their effectiveness. Further research will help define guidelines (or even a drug that blocks this stress-induced protein) but you can take action now as these researchers have recommended to actively avoid or reduce situations that your body perceives as stressful (even if you enjoy and are capable of vigorous exercise). Find a stress-reducing practice such as mild yoga, meditation, etc that you enjoy and make time for this part of your own cancer-fighting plan.

4) Insulin Levels Found to Affect Breast Cancer Survival
Breast cancer survivors with amounts of an insulin marker known as C-peptide greater than 1.7 ng/mL were at a two-fold higher risk of breast cancer death compared with women with C-peptide levels lower than that. In addition, women with type 2 diabetes had an even greater risk of breast cancer death compared with women without type 2 diabetes. These findings suggest that treatment strategies that reduce C-peptide levels in women treated for breast cancer—which could include dietary-induced weight loss, increased physical activity and insulin-lowering medications—should be explored, according to Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, the study’s lead author.

Take home lessons: Don't wait for further research to confirm these results to be initiated or completed if you are a cancer survivor who is overweight and/or does not exercise on a daily basis. Don't wait for the years and years it will take to produce the research that will force the insurance companies into paying for "cancer rehab" that is similar to the lifestyle counseling shown to be beneficial for people with cardiovascular disease, i.e. "cardiac rehab", or diabetes in order to optimize your odds for both extension of life and increased quality of life after cancer. Ask your primary care physician and/or oncology team NOW for a referral to an oncology Registered Dietitian who can help you define beneficial diet and exercise goals that will help you achieve meaningful results. In addition, be sure to speak up about costs, so that she will help you find the changes and resources available to use in the most cost-effective way possible.

5) Improving outcome of chemotherapy of metastatic breast cancer by docosahexanoic acid (DHA): a phase II trial
This open-label single-arm phase II study (i.e., no placebo or blinded group) evaluated the safety and efficacy (response rate), as primary end points, of the addition of 1.8 g DHA daily to an anthracycline-based chemotherapy (FEC) regimen in breast cancer patients (n=25) all of whom had rapidly progressing visceral metastases. The secondary end points were time to progression (TTP) and overall survival (OS). Median OS was 22 months and reached 34 months in the sub-population of patients (n=12) with the highest plasma DHA incorporation. The most common grade 3 or 4 toxicity was neutropaenia (80%).

Take Home Lesson: Regretfully, stage IV breast cancer is still considered incurable yet this very small study was able to show that adding a substantial amount of DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) to the regime of chemotherapy chosen increased length of life without additional adverse effects in the subgroup of patients who achieved the highest blood levels of DHA. These researchers are NOT (nor am I) recommending that you try this approach on your own, but if you have stage IV breast cancer, I do think these data merit a frank and serious discussion with your oncologist and the registered dietitian at your cancer center about the potential benefit of incorporating more DHA, either through oily fish, algae, or dietary supplements, into your cancer-fighting plan.

Just as an FYI, the past several times that my CRP level has been checked by my cardiologist, it has been less than 1.0, so in light of the research highlighted above in #2, I take those consistent results as an encouraging sign that the foods I eat (all the recipes on this blog, my kale blog, and my website) plus the amount of exercise I do is giving my body the best type of fuels possible to reduce one risk factor that promotes recurrence along with further types of chronic disease.

We have no power at the farm and are still digging out here at home, but I hope you are all safe and can stay warm this morning wherever you live and can use some of the information I posted above.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

1 comment:

lookinout said...

I have tagged this post for just-in-case. Very interesting, thanks.