Plant-Based Diet May Boost Health for Women with Breast Cancer

by Ella

A recent study suggests that adopting a plant-based diet may offer significant health benefits for women with stage 4 breast cancer, a group often excluded from dietary studies despite growing survivorship numbers. This new research, led by Thomas M. Campbell, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, explores the potential short- and long-term impacts of such a diet on these patients.


Study Design and Methodology

The study included 30 patients who were on stable treatment and could tolerate food. These participants were randomly divided into two groups: one group received standard care, while the intervention group followed a strict plant-based diet for eight weeks. The diet, provided by the research team, consisted solely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains (including whole grain pasta), legumes, potatoes, and nuts and seeds. Participants were instructed to avoid animal-based foods (meat, eggs, and dairy), all oils, and added solid fats, and were also given a daily multivitamin.


The study reported a remarkable 95% compliance rate, with weekly assessments ensuring adherence. “It’s exciting to see that these major dietary changes were feasible, well-tolerated, and acceptable to the clinical trial participants,” Campbell noted.


Significant Outcomes for Breast Cancer Patients

At the beginning of the study, the women had an average BMI of 29.7, which is considered borderline obese. Over the eight-week period, patients in the whole-foods plant-based group lost one to two pounds per week without any mandated exercise. This weight loss is particularly significant as weight gain during breast cancer treatment can increase risks by raising insulin levels and hormones like estrogen and testosterone, which can fuel cancer growth.


Moreover, the study observed a reduction in blood levels of IGF-1, a growth factor linked to various common cancers, and decreased inflammation. “Although we cannot say anything yet about whether the diet can stop cancer progression from this small study, we saw preliminary results that suggest favorable changes within the body, which is very positive,” Campbell stated.

Further Research and Implications

To further explore these findings, the research team is collaborating with Isaac Harris from the Wilmot Cancer Institute at URMC. This ongoing bench-to-clinic investigation, recently funded by the American Cancer Society, aims to study the effect of amino acid composition on cancer cell survival and the impact on various cancer drugs.

The primary study, believed to be the first of its kind, has been published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. The significant results from this dietary intervention have led to the publication of two additional papers: a second study in the same journal and a third in Frontiers in Nutrition.

Practical Advice for Switching to a Healthier Diet

Thomas Campbell advises patients to consult with their oncologists or healthcare providers before making any major dietary changes, especially those taking blood thinners or insulin medications.

Examples of food provided in the clinical trial included peanut soba noodles, steel-cut oatmeal, banana flax muffins, sweet potato enchiladas, and Mediterranean white bean soup. For those looking to start incorporating plant-based meals into their diets, Campbell recommends resources such as,, and for simple and affordable recipes.

Several factors can influence a person’s motivation to eat healthier, including family support, taste preferences, and cooking skills. Campbell emphasizes that making even small changes can be beneficial. “Whether a person makes dramatic changes overnight or simply decides to swap out an occasional meal in favor of a plant-based recipe can be a good choice,” he says. He adds, “You only need 5-10 plant-based recipes that are easy, tasty, and convenient enough that you will make them regularly to have a substantial overhaul in your diet.”


This pioneering study provides encouraging evidence that a plant-based diet may offer health benefits for women with stage 4 breast cancer. While further research is needed to fully understand the implications, the preliminary findings suggest that dietary changes could play a significant role in managing the health of cancer patients. By consulting with healthcare providers and gradually incorporating plant-based meals, patients can take proactive steps towards improving their overall health and potentially mitigating some risks associated with their condition.


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