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9:17 PM Fri, Nov. 16th

Choose healthy weapons against cancer

A plate of salmon and asparagus with whole bread dipped in olive oil and dessert of pineapple stuffed with fresh berries.

Follow that with a brisk evening walk, or a game of hoops with the children in the driveway.

Remedies for breast cancer? Quite possibly.

Medical experts no longer simply think a healthy diet is just a good idea; many think it is a key ingredient in not only breast cancer prevention but for those diagnosed, a focal point of treatment so cancer does not reoccur.

Research has proved diet plays a significant role in cancer prevention and treatment, with obesity a considerable factor in whether or not women after menopause have a recurrence of the disease, said Dr. Iyad Hamarneh, an oncologist with Arizona Oncology in Prescott Valley.

"We're more obese now than ever, and being overweight is strongly associated with hormone-related cancers, like breast cancer," Hamarneh said. "If a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, and if her body mass index, or body fat content, is high, the risk of cancer coming back is higher. So obesity in women after menopause can be a big issue."

A long-term, random study of diet on breast cancer conducted in Spain, the results of which were released on Sept. 14 in the Journal of American Medicine, suggests the Mediterranean diet, one that relies on eating large amounts of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and olive oil, and limited high-fat dairy and red meat, reduces incidences of breast cancer.

The five-year clinical trial of over 4,000 women - 35 of which were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during that period - was focused on the cardiovascular benefits of the Mediterranean diet. But researchers also tracked its impacts on various cancers, including breast cancer. The results of the study showed a 61 percent lower risk of cancer for those who followed the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil than those who followed just a low-fat diet.

The Mediterranean diet has attracted a lot of attention because, historically, breast cancer rates in lower Mediterranean countries is lower than in northern or central Europe or the United States.

Researchers warn these studies are not definitive, but rather a piece of a larger puzzle that needs to be weighed with other lifestyle and genetic factors.

For certain, good nutrition cannot be ignored, they said.

Yavapai Regional Medical Center Clinical Dietitian Supervisor Chad Hetherwick said the study's results are noteworthy. A healthy diet combined with a daily exercise regime is not just a good idea but critical to illness-free longevity, he and other experts state.

Post-menopausal weight gain, and fat mass, has been documented as correlating to breast cancer risk, he and Hamarneh concur.

A fruit-and-vegetable rooted nutritional plan with lean meats and whole grains, essentially the basics of the Mediterranean diet, is certainly one that is worthy of consideration, Hetherwick said.

As a dietitian, Hetherwick said much of his focus with patients is coaching them through small changes in their diet and lifestyle that progress to long-term success.

Too often people decide to go all-out on a particular diet but then when they cannot follow it perfectly, they deem themselves a failure and fall back into old habits, Hetherwick said.

"It's tough for people to go all or nothing," Hetherwick said. "That's why diets are such a huge industry.

"I work with what is a patient's current lifestyle, including diet. How close to ideal is that? And how do you make small changes over time that lead to bigger changes so that it's successful? Often times people set themselves up to fail ...It becomes a vicious cycle."

Dietitians strive to coach patients to develop realistic goals that allow them to move to the next step, Hetherwick said. "And then the next thing they know they are on a path that feels normal rather than a huge endeavor."

What is clear from all the research is that good nutrition and regular exercise is a weapon in the arsenal of tools to defeat breast cancer, experts state.

"Weight loss and exercise are becoming hot issues in the fight against breast cancer," Hamarneh confirmed. "Not addressing weight, exercise and diet is inappropriate. They are as important as anything else."