Mediterranean diet can reduce breast cancer risk

A major study has found that following a Mediterranean-style diet can cut the risk of developing a hard-to-treat form of breast cancer by 40%

A major study has found that following a Mediterranean diet can significantly reduce the risk of contracting a deadly form of breast cancer.

The Netherlands study - backed by the World Cancer Research Fund - monitored more than 62,000 women over a 20-year period to examine how diet can affect their breast cancer risk.

The research, published in the International Journal of Cancer, shows that a Mediterranean style diet - rich in olive oil, fish, fruit, nuts, vegetables and wholegrains - can cut the risk of developing Oestrogen-Receptor-negative (ER-negative) breast cancer by 40%.

ER-negative breast cancer is a postmenopausal form of the disease that cannot be treated with hormone therapy.

Professor John Crown, consultant medical oncologist at St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin said diet can be hugely important in the fight against cancer mortality rates:

“It is really quite provocative data,” he said. “One of the really big ways of reducing mortality from cancer – not now, not tomorrow , not in five years; but in ten years, twenty years and thirty years – for the people that are now young adults, for the people that are now children is to encourage healthy eating.”

The researchers examined 62,573 women aged 55 to 69 over a twenty year period.

Their diets were tracked to see how closely they followed the Mediterranean pattern, which also involves keeping the consumption of red meat, sweets and refined grains such as white bread or white rice to minimum.

Breast cancer is the most common malignant tumour diagnosed in Irish women according to the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI).

The NCRI data shows that an average of 2,883 cases were diagnosed each year between 2011 and 2013.

Although survival from breast cancer is high - at a rate of 82% five-year survival – it remains the second most common cause of cancer death in women, with an average of 690 deaths a year in Ireland during 2011 – 2012.

“Our research can help to shine a light on how dietary patterns can affect our cancer risk,” said study lead, Professor Piet van den Brandt, from Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

“We found a strong link between the Mediterranean diet and reduced oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer risk among post-menopausal women, even in a non-Mediterranean population.

“This type of breast cancer usually has a worse prognosis than other types of breast cancer.”

The traditional Mediterranean diet includes a moderate consumption of alcohol – however this was excluded from the study due to its known links to breast cancer.