The U.S. spends billions of dollars every year on cancer research, with breast cancer receiving the lion’s share of the funding. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, funding for breast cancer research in 2012 reached a staggering $602 million—twice as much as that allocated for lung cancer research.1
While some research on prevention measures exists, many of the studies on breast cancer focus on genetics, diagnosis and treatment—including novel drug/chemotherapy regimens, stem cell therapy and antibody and nanotechnology treatments.
However, doesn’t it make sense to do everything in your power to protect yourself from getting a horrible disease like cancer? Prevention is a whole lot easier than grueling treatments after diagnosis.
Fortunately, you don’t have to look far to find some of the best breast cancer preventives. In fact, most are probably already in your kitchen.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (arugula, cauliflower, collards, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnips, watercress, rutabaga and Brussels sprouts) are loaded with cancer-protective phytochemicals.
Specifically, these veggies contain high amounts of glucosinolates, a class of sulfur-containing compounds that break down into isothiocyanates.2 Cancer-fighting isothiocyanates work by eliminating potential carcinogens from the body and by enhancing the way tumor-suppressor proteins are transcribed (copied).3
One particular compound derived from glucosinolate—indole-3-carbinol (I3C)—is especially important. I3C molecules combine with each other in the stomach to form several different end products, one of which is 3,3-diindolylmethane (DIM). Research shows that DIM has strong anti-proliferative activity in breast cancer cells, meaning it inhibits the growth of cancerous cells.4-5
Cooking or steaming cruciferous veggies can alter these beneficial properties, so for maximum protection, eat your broccoli raw.
Turmeric is a spice derived from Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. Turmeric contains curcuminoids, which are polyphenols that give turmeric its distinctive yellow color. Curcumin is the main curcuminoid in turmeric.
Curcumin is well known as a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. In addition to displaying preventive effects on stomach, colorectal and some oral cancers, preliminary studies have shown that curcumin can inhibit the progression of breast cancer as well.
One study evaluated the effect of curcumin on MCF7 breast cancer cells (a cell line used in research) and found that it dose-dependently inhibited the proliferation of those cells.6 Another study examined the outcomes of curcumin supplementation on tumor angiogenesis—the formation of new blood vessels inside a tumor that helps the tumor grow. The results indicated that curcumin suppresses breast tumor angiogenesis.7
To get the benefits of curcumin, you can simply add the spice turmeric to your dishes and enjoy.
While everyone knows that garlic is potent in the taste department, few people know that it also has breast cancer-protective properties as well, thanks to its allyl sulfur compounds. These compounds help the body get rid of carcinogenic chemicals and aid in the death of cancer cells. Moreover, garlic helps to boost immune health, which may also minimize the risk of cancer cell growth.
Research shows that “fresh extracts of garlic (not boiled) arrested the growth and altered the morphology of MCF7 breast cancer cells.”8
And a French study that looked at the role of diet on breast cancer risk in 345 women concluded that risk decreased as the consumption of garlic increased. Onions, which are in the same family as garlic, also lowered risk.9
To reap these benefits, simply use more whole, fresh garlic in your cooking, or if you’re bold, just eat a few cloves on their own!
Tomatoes are loaded with the antioxidant lycopene. This carotenoid not only gives tomatoes their red color, but also has amazing anticancer attributes. Best known for its role in prostate cancer prevention, lycopene is really starting to make a name for itself on the breast cancer front.
In an analysis of eight studies that examined the link between circulating carotenoids in the blood and breast cancer risk, researchers found an especially significant decrease in risk among women with estrogen-receptor negative tumors. (Women with this type of cancer tend to have a poorer prognosis than those with estrogen-receptor positive tumors.)
They analyzed data on 3,055 women with breast cancer and 3,956 controls. Based on their blood carotenoid levels, the women were divided into four groups. Women with the highest levels of carotenoids had a 19 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to the women with the lowest carotenoid levels.
Of all the carotenoids examined (beta carotene, lutein/zeaxanthin, alpha carotene and beta cryptoxanthin), lycopene appeared the most powerful, decreasing risk by 22 percent (compared to 17 percent with beta carotene, 16 percent with lutein/zeaxanthin and 13 percent with alpha carotene). All of these reductions were statistically significant; only beta cryptoxanthin did not produce a statistically significant reduction.10
The trick with lycopene is that your body absorbs it best when the tomatoes are cooked or processed—so tomato sauce, paste and canned tomatoes are your richest sources. For some serious lycopene punch, try making your own sauce with fresh tomatoes. (And while you’re at it, throw in some garlic and bits of broccoli!)
- National Cancer Institute. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/NCI/research-funding.
- Abdull Razis AF and Noor NM. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2013;14(3):1565-70.
- Linus Pauling Institute. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/isothio/#biological_activity.
- Nicastro HL, et al. J Nutr Biochem. 2013 Aug 19. [Epub ahead of print.]
- Jin Y. Mol Cell Biochem. 2011 Dec;358(1-2):345-54.
- Zong H, et al. Mol Biol Rep. 2012 Apr;39(4):4803-8.
- Chakraborty G, et al. Mol Med Rep. 2008 Sep-Oct;1(5):641-6.
- Modem S, et al. Genes Cancer. 2012 Feb;3(2):177-86.
- Challier B, et al. Eur J Epidemiol. 1998 Dec;14(8):737-47.
- Eliassen AH, et al. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012 Dec 19;104(24):1905-16.