Sunday, October 24, 2010

While we wait for a cure, how do we process all these headlines?

When I was at the cancer fund-raiser last weekend, one of the speakers cautioned us against making too much of research involving, essentially, a few mice, a beaker and a scientist. And I get that. It seems every day there is another headline in the paper announcing the results of another cancer study. But at what point do we start to get excited? How large does the study need to be? Over what duration? Involving whom? Do we make decisions for ourselves, or wait for some organization, group or health care provider to put their stamp of approval on it before we start making the changes the research would seem to indicate?

Cue the latest headline - Collards and carrots may ward off breast cancer. In this new study of over 50,000 African American women, eating lots of carrots and cruciferous vegetables (collard greens, cabbage, broccoli) was linked to a reduced breast cancer risk, especially for estrogen receptor-negative tumours, a form of breast cancer more common among African American women. Estrogen receptor-negative tumours are harder to treat and have a poorer prognosis than estrogen receptor-positive tumours.

Lead researcher Dr. Deborah A. Boggs, of Boston University said her research team had found in previous work that African American women who consumed what they called a "prudent diet" high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish had a lower risk of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancers. In her new study, she and her team were looking at whether fruits and vegetables were behind the beneficial effect of that diet and, further, whether specific varieties of fruits and vegetables were more beneficial than others. What they found was that women who ate at least two servings of vegetables a day had a 43 percent lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer compared with women who ate fewer than four servings of vegetables each week. And, certain types of vegetables appeared to reduce the risk of all types of breast cancer, including broccoli, collard greens, cabbage and carrots. For example, women who ate three or more servings a week of carrots had a 17 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who ate carrots less than once a month.

So what do we take away from this study? This is a nice big group. And its women, not mice! Do we rush out and start eating more carrots? Maybe we should. The researchers say it is still to early to know what the link is and that further research needs to be done on the role of vegetables in the cancer fight. It may be that people who regularly consume a lot of vegetables just make generally healthier lifestyle choices. Or, there may be some other unknown mechanism that accounts for the apparent protection offered by these specific vegetables.  
But given that there is no down side to increasing our vegetable consumption, why wouldn't we start eating more of them now? We have no idea how long it will be before a real cure for breast cancer is found. In the meantime, it makes good sense to start making the changes that make sense.


  1. ha. When they figure out the cure for cancer I will fight for the first place in line. In the meantime, I dont eat soy, I do eat vegetables and exercise. An other ideas? Great. But please just figure this out.

  2. Aren't I feeling good as I am snacking on my carrots and open your blog... :-) Thank goodness it was broccoli and carrots and NOT brussel sprouts and radishes! :-)

  3. I agree there is no down side to eating more veggies and I certainly intend to eat more of them as I put my life back together after breast cancer. Thanks for the "veggie" post.

  4. Good luck, Nancy. Just an aside - I'm enjoying your blog. Keep it up!

    And Diana, for news on broccoli AND brussel sprouts, refer to today's health links. :-)

  5. We eat alot of broccoli and a good way to cook it is in a little water (not covering the broccoli) a drizzle of olive oil, salt and several cut up garlic cloves. Yumm

  6. I'll post a link to my favourite roasted broccoli and shrimp recipe. The boys don't get it at all but they'll pick out the shrimp. :-)