P,45, felt a lump in her right breast during her shower one day. She quickly made an appointment with a surgeon and had an urgent mammogram and ultrasound examination done. The lump was biopsied and confirmed to be cancerous. She subsequently had her right breast removed together with the lymph nodes in the right armpit. Luckily, the cancer had not spread and was classified as stage 1. She was then put on hormonal therapy to reduce the chances of the cancer recurrence.
She saw me a few months after the surgery. She felt tired, listless and weak.
“Doc, what should I eat to improve my health?” she asked. “I have had so many well meaning friends giving me advice about my diet that I am confused. They tell me that soy foods and sugar will feed the cancer cells and should be avoided. Is there any truth?”
I told her that soy foods, such as tofu and soya milk are rich in proteins and should be good for the body. But people are worried that they also contain the chemicals called phytoestrogens, which are similar to the female hormones in our body. These chemicals may stimulate breast cancer cells to grow. But latest studies have shown that they do not adversely affect breast cancer and may even reduce the risks of recurrence. However, there is no conclusive evidence regarding the safety of soy supplements. Concerning sugar intake, I told her that excessive intake may lead to obesity which may increase chances of cancer relapse.
I gave her the following pointers in her food choices.
· Eat protein-rich foods. Protein helps the body to repair cells and tissues. It also helps the immune system. Good sources of protein include lean meat, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, nuts, beans and soy.
· Embrace whole grains. Whole grains provide a good source of carbohydrate and fibre, which help keep the energy levels up. Good sources of whole grains include oatmeal and brown rice.
· Consume colourful fruits and vegetables daily. Besides vitamins and minerals, these foods contain antioxidants, which are important in the fight against cancer.
· Choose healthy fat. Avoid fried and greasy foods. Healthy fats include olive oil. omega-3 fatty acids, nut and seeds
· Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid drinking large amounts of caffeinated beverages.
· Avoid alcohol: There is a link between regular alcohol consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer.
P was attentive and jotted down these dietary tips. She looked more cheerful as she left my room.