Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Limiting carbs may help lower the risk of breast cancer recurrence for some women

blog less carbs reduce breast cancer

Dartmouth College researchers believe women who have breast tumors that are positive for the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) receptor may be able reduce their risk for breast cancer recurrence by cutting back on the amount of carbs they eat.

Jennifer Emond, an instructor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, and her research team examined whether carbohydrate intake and IGF-1 receptor status influenced tumor growth among the study’s participants, 265 postmenopausal breast cancer survivors.

"We found that a decreased carbohydrate intake was associated with decreased breast cancer recurrence for these women,” notes Emond.

The study will be published in the July issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. It is the first study to indicate the potential of personalizing diets for breast cancer survivors based on the molecular characteristics of their primary tumor.

“We know obesity is a risk factor for cancer and diabetes,” says Danielle Kennedy, RD, LDN, a registered and licensed dietitian at CTCA in Philadelphia. “If a person is consuming too many carbohydrates, it will overstimulate the insulin response and may promote weight gain.”

But eating a low-carb diet every day can be challenging. And most of us find the restrictions confusing, including whether we need to altogether avoid carbs like sugar and white flour.

“The goal is to limit the portion a person is consuming, not necessarily change the source,” explains Kennedy. “For example, a person on a carbohydrate-restricted diet may still have white bread, but the idea is that they choose to have one or two slices of bread rather than a large bagel.”

Kennedy helps cancer patients gain a better understanding of fats, proteins and carbs, and how they work together to deter high blood sugars and overproduction of insulin. When making recommendations for limiting carbs, she considers a patient’s gender, weight, height and physical activity, in addition to the patient’s personal preferences for foods.

Kennedy advises increasing sources of healthy protein and healthy fats. To help deter overstimulation of insulin and weight gain, she encourages patients to add more fiber to their diet, as well as eliminate sugary beverages and “concentrated sweets.” “These foods more quickly stimulate insulin and cause more of it, considering they are higher in sugar concentration than an apple, for instance,” she says.

Explore more nutrition tips from CTCA dietitians.