Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a growth of malignant or harmful cells that starts in breast tissue and may grow and spread to other parts of the body.

  • Overview
  • Action Plan
  • Ask The Doctor
  • Related Info
  • Success Stories


Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in women. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 8 (12%) U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.1 There may not be any warning of breast cancer, however, if you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, you may need to see your doctor:

  • Breast lump
  • Strange discharge coming from the nipple
  • Skin dimpling on the breast
  • Change in the size or shape of the breast

Breast cancer is much more common in industrialized countries, suggesting lifestyle and environmental risks are the strongest factors. Genetic markers have been discovered as well, but about 90% or more of women with breast cancer do not have a genetic risk factor for breast cancer. In general, cell damage that develops into cancer always has some agent or combination of agents that cause changes and damage to cell structure. This damage can occur early in life, even before birth, and is cumulative. Causative risks include exposures to chemicals, supplemental hormones, radiation exposure, early first menstruation, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol use, tobacco use, and high animal product intake. Eating a diet high in vegetables and fruits in general has been found to correlate with lower risk of breast cancer, and this is likely related to the cancer protective nutrients found in these foods. Childhood and adolescence seems to be the most important time to use protective foods and avoid risky behaviors that increase risk.

  1. DeSantis C, Ma J, Bryan L, Jemal A. Breast cancer statistics, 2013. CA Cancer J Clin 2014, 64:52-62.

Action Plan


  • Many plant foods have been found to contain cancer-fighting nutrients for prevention or part of a treatment regimen for breast cancer. Of the foods studied, the following has shown the most convincing evidence for protection.
    • Flax seeds—Flax seeds have been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer as well as help treat it,1 likely related to their high amount of lignans, a nutrient which has anti-cancer effects and is also found in other foods such as chia seeds.
    • Green vegetables, particularly cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, and collards)—Cruciferous vegetables contain high amounts of special sulphur-containing compounds that fight cancer, and have been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer.2
    • Garlic and onions—Similar to cruciferous vegetables, garlic and onions have special sulfur-containing compounds that fight cancer.
    • Soy beans
      • Eating whole soy beans (edamame), including tofu and tempeh, has been shown to be protective against developing breast cancer, particularly when eaten as a child or adolescent.
      • Whole soy is also helpful (not harmful) for those already diagnosed with breast cancer.3
      • Avoid isolated soy protein.
    • Mushrooms—Mushrooms are particularly helpful at reducing breast cancer risk4 in part related to their estrogen-lowering effects.
    • Berries—Eating berries (strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, blueberries, etc.) have been shown to help fight cancer, including breast cancer cells.
  • Tip: Onion family and cruciferous family vegetables are best eaten raw and chewed well or at least chopped finely or blended prior to cooking in order to provide the strongest cancer protection.
  • Reducing foods that are associated with higher risk, such as processed foods and animal products, is also an important strategy in reducing breast cancer risk.
  • Green tea consumption may be protective against breast cancer.5 Using green tea extracts allows for convenient dosing.


Physical activity is associated with lower risk of breast cancer, even for those who already have a history of breast cancer.6


Each individual’s case is different, but when investigators look at a very large group of women together, screening (with mammogram primarily) has recently been shown to not be able to reduce the overall risk of dying.7 Some individuals may still benefit from some form of screening, but, unfortunately, it is difficult to know who would or wouldn’t benefit from screening, how often, or when to start. Screening with mammogram can lead to higher exposures to harmful radiation, false-positive results which lead to unnecessary treatments/surgery/grief, and even false-negative results which can lead to false reassurance and less focus on prevention strategies such as dietary changes. Better screening tools will be available in the near future, but the most important real prevention is superior nutrition.

  1. Flower G, Fritz H, Balneaves LG, et al. Flax and Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review. Integr Cancer Ther 2013, 13:181-192.
  2. Liu X, Lv K. Cruciferous vegetables intake is inversely associated with risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis. Breast 2013, 22:309-313.
  3. Nechuta SJ, Caan BJ, Chen WY, et al. Soy food intake after diagnosis of breast cancer and survival: an in-depth analysis of combined evidence from cohort studies of US and Chinese women. Am J Clin Nutr 2012, 96:123-132.
  4. Li J, Zou L, Chen W, et al. Dietary mushroom intake may reduce the risk of breast cancer: evidence from a meta-analysis of observational studies. PLoS One 2014, 9:e93437.
  5. Ogunleye AA, Xue F, Michels KB. Green tea consumption and breast cancer risk or recurrence: a meta-analysis. Breast Cancer Res Treat 2010, 119:477-484.
  6. Volaklis KA, Halle M, Tokmakidis SP. Exercise in the prevention and rehabilitation of breast cancer. Wien Klin Wochenschr 2013, 125:297-301.
  7. Gotzsche PC, Jorgensen KJ. Screening for breast cancer with mammography. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013, 6:CD001877.

Ask The Doctor

The following are sample questions from the Ask the Doctor Community Platinum and higher members can post their health questions directly to Dr. Fuhrman. (All members can browse questions and answers.)


I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. I follow a vegan diet and I have been using soy milk in place of dairy milk, 1 to 2 cups per day, and use other soy products. Should I avoid soy which increases the estrogen in your body?


The potential problem here stems from your use of the word "vegan" diet and not "vegan-Nutritarian" diet because the anti-cancer power comes from the careful inclusion of the plant foods with the most documented benefits against cancer–G-BOMBS. For example, a very low fat, high carb vegan diet will not expose you to enough phytochemical benefits and will decrease their absorption. So the question is, where do the two cups of soy milk come into play in your diet? It is a processed food with limited antioxidants and phytochemicals, so if you are using it as a drink, it would make more sense to drink a glass of carrot, kale, lemon, tomato, and ginger juice. It is not that unsweetened soy milk is bad, but that it may reflect an overall lack of attention to the optimal choice of foods.

Avoiding all soy has no benefit for breast cancer patients and does not increase estrogen in the body. Unprocessed soy beans and tempeh are excellent foods. You should not eat isolated soy protein or overly processed soy products. Use miso sparingly and only low salt varieties. Tofu and tempeh are fine, and use unsweetened soy milk in limited quantities.


I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I have started to follow a Nutritarian diet in hopes of reversing it. A local physician told me that more than 1/3 cup of fresh or frozen fruit per day is not good for cancer patients because cancer cells feed on sugar. I’ve been eating much more than 1/3 cup per day. Should I cut back on fruits?


No, you should not. Eating one serving of fruit (whole cup) with each meal is fine. There are lots of false myths that circulate in the anti-cancer community. Even though foods with a high glycemic load are cancer-promoters, fresh fruit has a low glycemic load, especially when compared to white flour, sugar, white rice, and even white potato. Eating a reasonable amount of fruit, especially berries, has been demonstrated in scientific studies to protect and even reverse cancer.



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