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Fruits, Vegetables Can Protect Against Breast Cancer - 2001-09-25


A new study shows that a variety of nutrients found in fruit and vegetables may help protect against breast cancer.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington D.C., these nutrients include beta-carotene found in green and orange vegetables, and in certain fruits, Lutein found in spinach, Alpha-carotene found in carrots and pumpkin, and beta-cryptoxanthin found in oranges, peaches and papayas.

Previous research linked beta-carotene to a reduction of cancer. But the recent research shows that a combination of nutrients may ward off cancer. According to the report, this finding underscores the importance of a healthy diet, complete with a variety of fruit and vegetables for lower cancer risk. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, there is strong evidence that increased overall fruit and vegetable consumption can prevent an estimated 10 to 20 percent of breast cancer cases.

In another study, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, say that special imaging tests can help predict which women with breast cancer would respond to hormone therapy and which would not. Such information can make it easier for medical experts to determine the best ways to treat women with breast cancer. Women who react positively to hormone therapy may not need aggressive chemotherapy or surgery. Washington University Oncologist Joanne Mortimer led the research. The doctor used PET Imaging to determine which women are most likely to benefit from hormone therapy with the drug Tamoxifen. PET Imaging is a form of scanning that shows the chemical make up of an organ or a tissue.

Dr. Mortimer treated 40 women who had advanced breast cancer and had a positive reaction to hormone therapy. Although their tumors temporarily grew, the doctor said that was usually good news. "We call it a flare reaction when the tumor grows first before it shrinks and according to our data, it would look like virtually everybody who subsequently responds to hormone treatment will experience this temporary tumor growth," says Dr. Mortimer.

But Dr. Mortimer says that there is no guarantee such a reaction is always positive. As a matter of fact, the doctor says that only 30 to 60 percent of the women who seem to be responding positively to hormone therapy actually improve after the treatment. She says that fact, combined with the rapid tumor growth after the start of hormone therapy, makes it difficult for doctors to decide whether to continue with the treatment or to choose harsher chemotherapy. "If we could predict who would benefit from hormones, chemotherapy would be delayed," she says. "From a doctor's standpoint, the advantage is that often when women experience this flare reaction, their pain gets worse and you can't tell what's a flare from what's a tumor progression so what the doctor gets out of it, is if we are able to distinguish that this flare happens and therefore the patient's cancer will eventually shrink, they'll be able to tell comfortably when this is a flare which is good, and when it is cancer, which is bad."

Dr. Mortimer says that PET scanning and subsequent hormone therapy could also help women in the early stages of breast cancer. "We do use treatment to shrink cancers before surgery," she says. "So, conceivably we would look at this in earlier stage disease to shrink their cancers with hormones before surgery."

According to the physician, this approach might save many women who without such treatment might undergo a mastectomy an operation to have their cancerous breast surgically removed. Now with the PET scanning and the hormone therapy, the patients may only need to have their tumor removed. After the surgery, they may require radiation therapy.

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