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Fruits, veggies tied to lower breast cancer risk

10 December, 2012

New York: Women now have one more reason to eat their fruits and veggies.

A new study suggests that women with higher levels of carotenoids (nutrients found in fruits and vegetables) have a lower risk of breast cancer -- especially cancers that are harder to treat and have a poorer prognosis.

When researchers from Harvard Medical School pooled the results of studies that measured carotenoid levels in women's blood, they found that those with the highest levels had a lower risk of breast cancer compared to those with the lowest levels.

The association appeared to be stronger for smokers than for non-smokers and for women who were lean compared to those who were overweight.

Carotenoids are the micronutrients in fruits and vegetables that give them their vibrant orange, yellow, and red colors. Foods that are good sources of carotenoids include carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, red peppers, and winter squash.

Having higher circulating blood-carotenoid levels may be particularly protective against breast cancers that do not need estrogen to grow.

The finding suggests that eating a healthy, plant-based diet may be one of the first modifiable risk factors for these less common, poorer-prognosis cancers.

"Breast cancer risk factors we have known about all involve more common estrogen-dependent cancers," says researcher A. Heather Eliassen, ScD.

The study combined data from eight trials that included more than 3,000 women with breast cancer and close to 4,000 women without the disease.

It is not clear if carotenoids directly lowered cancer risk.

But Stephanie Bernik, MD, who is chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says the message to women does not change.

"We have said if we want to reduce the risk of cancer -- not just breast cancer -- eating a plant-based diet low in fat and animal protein may help," she says.

"This study, like others, suggests this is the case."

The study was published Dec. 6 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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