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Why diet is so important when it comes to breast cancer

Undergoing the rigours of breast cancer treatment can cause your body to become malnourished, so ensuring you are getting good nutrition during this critical time is paramount.

According to leading breast cancer surgeon, Associate Professor Sanjay Warrier, diet and lifestyle play a critical role during breast cancer treatment.

Associate Professor Warrier is one of the world’s leading breast health and breast cancer surgeons who has built a highly respected practice in Sydney. The practice spans three locations with its main surgical centre located at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Camperdown, and the other sites at BMA House, Macquarie Street, Sydney and Bondi Junction Medical, Oxford Street, Bondi Junction.

In addition to Associate Professor Warrier’s breast health and surgical work, he also dedicates considerable time to research exploring and developing advancements in breast cancer detection and treatments to improve outcomes for patients. He also developed the world’s first Master of Breast Surgery which is delivered through the University of Sydney.

Nutritional tips for those undergoing treatment

There are many different types of breast cancer and tumours can be invasive and non-invasive. Treatment is formulated according to the type and other factors,” Associate Professor Warrier said.

Some treatments can make you feel nauseous or even change the way foods you used to love taste and smell. It’s so important to provide your body with good quality, nutritious food, so that your body has what it needs to function better and recover from the treatment.

You might even consider taking a daily multivitamin supplement, if you’re worried that changes to your appetite may cause a shortfall in your nutrition. Speak to your GP about your concerns and he or she might prescribe a dietary supplement. For example, if your bone health has been affected by your treatment, you might be advised to take some calcium and vitamin D.

There is no special diet that you should be on when you’re going through treatment, so there is no need to go on any drastic diet. It’s also really common to put on some weight during treatment, which could be due to a side effect from the treatment, or you could be reducing your level of physical activity due to fatigue.

Just be kind to yourself during this time and if you do put on weight and you’re worried about it, the best way to get back to your original weight is to do it gradually. Please speak to your doctor to get advice tailored to your situation.”

Foods to Avoid

Certain foods like processed and smoked meats have been linked to cancer, so it’s best to avoid those foods. There are also some foods like unpasteurised milk and juices, soft cheeses like feta and brie, and refrigerated meat spreads like pate that are generally marked as not advisable to consume if you’re going through chemotherapy,” Associate Professor outlined.

Whenever possible, please try to choose fresh whole ingredients. You can easily swap out white bread for whole grain bread and use brown rice instead of white rice. These small changes can increase your nutritional intake, while giving you a similar food experience.

I also recommend cutting back on bad habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol. In the meantime, don’t forget to snack healthy too – it’s not just about mealtimes.”

Cancer-fighting food

There are also some great foods that are known as cancer-fighting foods. Topping the list would be berries, broccoli, tomatoes and all sorts of fruits, vegetables and nuts. These fresh ingredients all contain phytonutrients, which may help your body fight the cancer. Also stock up on grains, beans and seeds,” Associate Professor Warrier said.

Besides these foods, get your fill of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and anchovies. These nutrient rich fish have many essential nutrients such as B vitamins, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids.

There is no number one cancer-fighting food. Nutrition is derived from a group of foods. So, try to provide your body with a variety of foods to cover the spectrum of nutrients to help fight cancer.”

Take charge of your health

It can be very daunting when you are diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s a scary and anxious time for you and your family and friends. You can feel like your world has spiralled out of control. These are totally normal feelings,” Associate Professor Warrier said.

During this time please be kind to yourself and take charge of the things that you can control, one of which is your nutrition and lifestyle.”

Further information about undertaking breast screening and detecting breast cancer can be found at

About Associate Professor Sanjay Warrier

Associate Professor Sanjay Warrier is a past President and current committee member of Breast Surgeons of Australia and New Zealand (BreastSurgANZ). His views are those of his own, not BreastSurgANZ. Associate Professor Warrier’s surgery is located at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and he also has clinics at Oxford Street, Bondi Junction and Macquarie Street, Sydney. He is published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and won the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s Patron’s Prize for best scientific research.


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