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How to beat breast cancer one bite at a time

What you eat may lessen your chances of estrogen-positive breast cancer

Did you know that making changes to your diet can reduce your risk (or recurrence) of estrogen-positive breast cancer? Learn how making some changes to your diet can help you fight breast cancer.

What is estrogen-positive breast cancer?

There are different types and subtypes of breast cancer. Most breast cancer growth is fueled by “receptors” that are found inside cells in our bodies.

“Estrogen-positive breast cancer has cells with receptors that use the estrogen hormone to grow,” explains Susan Generose, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist at Geisinger.

In fact, most (about 70 to 80 percent) of breast cancers test positive for estrogen receptors.

Can diet reduce your risk of breast cancer?

Diet has quite an impact on the way the body works, including the development of cancers.

There’s still some controversy surrounding foods containing estrogen-like compounds, like soy, red meats and dairy, and whether they contribute to estrogen-positive breast cancer. “These foods all have estrogen and estrogen-like chemicals in them,” says Generose. “However, research outcomes vary by type of food, how much of that food is eaten over time, the genetic makeup of the person and their diet overall.”

Some foods have cancer-fighting properties while others have cancer-causing properties. If you focus on eating healthy, nutritious foods, it may help reduce your risk of developing (or experiencing a recurrence of) estrogen-positive breast cancer.

Breast cancer-fighting diet: Foods to eat and foods to limit or avoid

While no single food can completely prevent breast cancer, research has shown that eating a variety of certain foods may help reduce your risk (and improve your overall health).

Foods to eat:

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Apples, asparagus, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, grapefruit and tomatoes, to name a few, are very high in vitamins, nutrients and cancer-fighting compounds.

“Fruits and vegetables are high in phytochemicals, which have been demonstrated to reduce inflammation, a direct cause of cancer,” says Generose.


Whole grains, such as whole wheat and oats, provide dietary fiber. Fiber can help you feel fuller after eating, preventing weight gain, which is a contributing factor to cancer growth.

“Soluble fiber, found in whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, may help prevent cancer,” says Generose. “For example, a quarter-cup of sunflower seeds can provide up to 4 grams of dietary fiber. That’s about one-fourth of your recommended daily allowance of fiber.”

Good fats

Walnuts in particular have been studied and are shown to block estrogen receptors, which slows down the growth of breast cancer cells. “Walnuts are a great snack,” says Generose. “The correct serving size is one handful.”

Foods to limit or avoid:


There’s evidence that avoiding fatty foods, like fried foods and packaged snack foods, is one way to help manage weight and overall health — and as a result, maybe even breast cancer.

“High body fat increases the mortality risk in breast cancer survivors,” explains Generose. “Decreasing your intake of saturated fats, like those in red meats, butter and baked goods, can decrease fat levels and inflammation in your body.”


In small or moderate quantities, alcohol — namely red wine — does have some health benefits, such as lowering stress, lowering the risk of heart disease and reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

In large quantities, however, alcohol is directly linked to breast cancer (and other cancers, too). “Women should keep it to no more than one drink per day, as there is strong evidence that consuming large amounts of alcohol daily increases your risk of breast cancer,” says Generose.

Red meat

In all meal plans, it’s recommended that you limit your intake of red meats, like beef, lamb and pork, and processed meats, like bacon and hot dogs.

“You don’t need to swear off all red meat for good, but reducing your intake can have positive effects on your health and may reduce your risk of cancer,” says Generose.

The recommended amount of red meat is three portions per week, or a total of 12 to 18 ounces or less.

“Try to choose lean cuts of meat or poultry, and add more fish to your diet,” adds Generose.

Beating breast cancer

If you have (or had) estrogen-positive breast cancer, you’re probably wondering if there are any additional steps you can take to lower the risk of your cancer growing or coming back. Research has shown that there are some things that can help, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Staying physically active
  • Limiting intake of alcohol

If you’re undergoing treatment and have questions about your diet, ask your primary care physician or oncologist to refer you to a registered dietitian nutritionist, an expert in the field of food.

Next steps:

Learn more about Susan Generose, RDN
Breast self-exams are important. Here’s how to perform one.
To screen or not to screen? A guide to mammograms.

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