Breast cancer cells controlled by lifestyle factors, plant nutrient combination and epigenetic changes


A series of studies presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology has revealed that lifestyle changes focused on healthy eating and regular exercises decreases bio-markers related to breast cancer recurrence and mortality.

The study consisted of splitting obese or overweight women into two groups: those who who received weight loss and exercise counseling and a usual care group that received a brochure about lifestyle changes. After six months, women in the weight loss counseling group experienced an approximate 30% decrease in C-reactive protein (CRP) levels compared with a minimal decrease in women randomized to the usual care group.

Biomarkers are based on the expression of certain proteins that correspond to a level of inflammation in the body suggesting that lifestyle changes influences gene expression of these proteins on an epigenetic level. Epigenetics is the change in gene expression controlled by environmental factors.

CRP is a marker of chronic inflammation and higher CRP levels have been associated with a higher risk of breast cancer mortality. A dose response effect was found in women randomized to weight loss counseling in that women who lost at least 5% body weight experienced an approximate 22% decrease in insulin, 38% decrease in leptin, and 55% decrease in CRP, compared to significantly less biomarker improvement in women randomized to weight loss who lost less than 5% body weight.

The second study consisted of analyzing the effect of exercise on weight, body fat, and serum inflammatory biomarkers in breast cancer survivors with joint pain (aromatase inhibitor arthralgias). Research participants were randomized into two groups: those who participated in twice-weekly strength training and 2.5 hr/wk of moderate-intensive aerobic exercise and the control group consisting of those who did no exercise. After 12 months, the study found that the exercise group experienced an approximate 3% weight and body fat loss, and 6% decrease in CRP levels compared to increases in the control group.

“The findings of both studies support a growing body of research that suggests lifestyle interventions lower biomarkers associated with breast cancer recurrence and mortality, and improve quality of life,” said Melinda Irwin, PhD, co-program leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program at Yale Cancer Center, associate professor of Epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, and principal investigator on both studies.

A number of previous studies had examined the impact of certain vegetables on breast cancer and conclusively found a link impacting on breast cancer. A study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism has revealed that tomatoes act as a preventative measure for breast cancer.

“The advantages of eating plenty of tomatoes and tomato-based products, even for a short period, were clearly evident in our findings,” said the study’s first author, Adana Llanos, PhD, MPH, who is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Rutgers University. “Eating fruits and vegetables, which are rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals such as lycopene, conveys significant benefits. Based on this data, we believe regular consumption of at least the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables would promote breast cancer prevention in an at-risk population.”

Eating a diet high in tomatoes had a positive impact on the level of hormones that play a role in regulating fat and sugar metabolism. The women involved in this study ate tomato products containing 25 milligrams of lycopene on a daily basis for 10 weeks. For a separate 10 week period the study group consumed at least 40 grams of soy protein daily.

When the effects of the tomato-rich diet were charted participants’ levels of adiponectin, a hormone involved in regulating blood sugar and fat levels, climbed 9 percent. The effect was slightly stronger in women who had a lower body mass index.

“The findings demonstrate the importance of obesity prevention,” Llanos said. “Consuming a diet rich in tomatoes had a larger impact on hormone levels in women who maintained a healthy weight.”

A large scale Chinese study investigated the role of cruciferous vegetables in breast cancer survival among women in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study, a prospective study of 4,886 Chinese breast cancer survivors who were diagnosed with stage 1 to stage 4 breast cancer from 2002 to 2006.

The researchers demonstrated that lifestyle changes associated with cruciferous vegetable intake during the first 36 months after breast cancer diagnosis had a significant impact on mortality rate, and breast cancer disease recurrence.

Women who consumed the highest percentage of vegetables per day had a 62 percent reduced risk of total mortality, 62 percent reduced risk of breast cancer mortality, and 35 percent reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence, compared to women with the vegetable consumption rate.

Survival rates were influenced by vegetable consumption in a dose-response pattern. As women ate more of these vegetables, their risk of death or cancer recurrence decreased.

Eating habits and food choices by individuals are controlled by their genes. Researchers from the Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Center confirm that individuals with variations in obesity genes tend to eat more meals and snacks and consume more calories per day eating high fat, sugary foods.

“One of the primary causes of both the recurrence of breast cancer and deaths is a small group of cancer stem cells that evade therapy,” notes Dr. Raj, the lead study author. “These often multi-drug-resistant cells have the ability to generate new tumors, so it is critically important to develop new approaches to more effective and safer treatment or prevention of breast cancer.”

The results consisted of the testing of ten known protective nutrients found in broccoli, grapes, apples, tofu and tumeric root. Six nutrients in particular displayed the most effective anti-cancer fighting properties and included Curcumin known as tumeric, Isoflavone from soybeans, Indo-3-Carbinol from cruciferous plants, C-phycocyanin from spirulina, Reservatrol from grapes, and Quercetin, a flavonoid present in fruits, vegetables, and tea.

The compounds when tested in combination suppressed breast cancer cell growth by more than 80%, inhibited migration and invasion, caused cell cycle arrest, and triggered the process leading to cell death resulting in the death of 100% of the breast cancer cells in the sample.

The control group did not display any harmful effects of the compound. Prior research has determined that the BRCA1 and BRAC2 genes are molecular targets of four of the six compounds and that two of the compounds synergize effectively to kill ovarian cancer cells.


Madhwa Raj et al. Simultaneous Inhibition of Cell – Cycle, Proliferation, Survival, Metastatic Pathways and Induction of Apoptosis in Breast Cancer Cells by a Phytochemical Super – Cocktail: Genes That Underpin Its Mode of Action. Journal of Cancer, November 2013

Adana Llanos, PhD, MPH et al. Effects of Tomato and Soy on Serum Adipokine Concentrations in Postmenopausal Women at Increased Breast Cancer Risk: A Cross-over Dietary Intervention Trial. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, December 2013

Yale University. “Lifestyle changes improve biomarkers for breast cancer recurrence, mortality.”

Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Eating cruciferous vegetables may improve breast cancer survival.”