Can following the Mediterranean diet benefit breast cancer survivors?

  • 9 May 2023

It is possible that following a Mediterranean diet could have long-term health benefits for patients with breast cancer, according to a paper published recently in Nutrients. Researchers at the NIHR Bristol BRC and the University of Bristol found that the association between following a Mediterranean diet and quality of life parameters wasn’t consistent, but their results highlighted its potential to reduce mortality in this group of people.

Female breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer. Survivors commonly experience weight gain, menopausal symptoms and have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis because of the treatments they undergo. This means they might not engage with long-term therapy, which increases their risk of the cancer recurring and can reduce their quality of life.

Although long-term survival rates have increased, women’s needs for high-quality healthcare are still not being met. Previous studies have reported that following a Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on the health of the general population because it focuses on olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Compared to a typical Western diet, it includes fewer ultra-processed foods and meat and is associated with reducing the risk of breast cancer and other health benefits.

The study team were interested in exploring whether this could translate into beneficial outcomes for women with breast cancer. They analysed evidence from randomised controlled trials and observational studies to explore the association between following the Mediterranean diet and survival rates, quality of life and health-related outcomes among this group.

Ge Chen, lead author, said :

“Studies on breast cancer survivors are limited and vary in how they assess outcomes or complications associated with treatment and, to our knowledge, no one has systematically assessed the evidence for the effects of following a Mediterranean diet on women diagnosed with breast cancer.”

“We found some evidence suggesting that high adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of mortality, although the degree of association was inconsistent.”

“We need to conduct more research with better study designs, as well as more consistent measurements of quality of life and Mediterranean diet adherence. Future research should account for changes in how a diet is followed over time as well as looking at subgroups in our chosen population.”

“More work is needed to provide robust evidence on the survival, quality of life and health-related outcomes in breast cancer survivors.”