Breast cancer: certain fruits and vegetables protect women better


High consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables and berries such as blueberries, is associated with a significant decrease in the risk of breast cancer as shown by a recent study.

The incidence of breast cancer varies widely around the world, indicating that lifestyle plays an important role in the risk of developing this disease. One of the best examples of this influence of lifestyle habits is the dramatic increase in breast cancer that occurs following the migration of Asian women to the West, particularly to North America: women from China, Japan, Korea or from the Philippines, for example, have one of the lowest incidences of breast cancer in the world, but this cancer can become up to 4 times more frequent following their migration to America. This increase is a direct consequence of the adoption of the North American way of life, characterized by a high-calorie but low-vegetable diet, a strong sedentary lifestyle and a marked increase in body weight. The impact of this lifestyle is such that the incidence of breast cancer becomes similar to that of native Americans from the third generation of immigrants.

Several different breast cancers

The identification of dietary factors responsible for the high incidence of breast cancer in the West is complicated by the fact that this cancer is a very heterogeneous disease. What is called “breast cancer” is actually a generic term that refers to at least 10 distinct diseases, with very different genetic signatures and biochemical characteristics from each other. We also use these differences to personalize current treatments: for example, breast cancers that have estrogen receptors (ER+) can be treated with tamoxifen to specifically block this receptor. In other cases (20-30 %), the cancerous cells over-express the HER receptor and it is then possible to consider treating these cancers using specific inhibitors such as Herceptin. On the other hand, some breast cancers do not express any of these markers (they are called “triple negatives”), and are therefore resistant to these drugs. These cancers are characterized by an aggressive clinical course, a high potential for forming brain metastases and therefore a low survival rate for affected patients.

All these cancers are therefore very serious diseases. different from each other and it goes without saying that these differences will greatly influence their sensitivity to the chemopreventive effect of the various compounds in the diet.

5 fruits and vegetables per day and the risk curve drops

To properly study the impact of diet on the risk of breast cancer, it is therefore necessary not only to examine the incidence of the different forms of this cancer, but also the individual impact of different fruits and vegetables on each of them. Plants are a very heterogeneous class of foods, with very different contents of anticancer phytochemicals, and are therefore not equal in terms of cancer prevention.

The interest of this approach is well illustrated by the results of a recent Harvard University study conducted with 160 148 women who participated in both cohorts of the Nurses’ Health Study, i.e. those of 324-2012 (NHSI) and of 1991-2013 (NHSII). This high number of participants, combined with the long follow-up period (30 years), allowed the researchers to show that women who consumed the most fruits and vegetables (more than 5 servings per day) had a significantly lower risk (11 %) to develop breast cancer in general compared to those who ate at least 2 servings a day. A more detailed analysis reveals that this protection is particularly observed for ER- cancers (15 % reduction for every 2 servings of plants) and in particular those that express the HER receptor (29 % off for every 2 servings).

High consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables and berries such as blueberries, is associated with a significant decrease in the risk of breast cancer as shown by a recent study.

Cabbage, broccoli, blueberries, strawberries: fruits and vegetables specifically anti-cancer

For example, regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) as well as yellow/orange vegetables such as winter squash is associated with a decrease of % of cancer risk, protection that reaches 40% for the form that expresses the HER receptor. On the fruit side, the consumption of blueberries and strawberries is associated with a marked decrease (31%) of breast cancer risk ER-.

The inclusion of these foods on a regular basis is therefore particularly important for the prevention of this cancer, especially since they seem to interfere mainly with the development of the ER- and HER+ forms, two particularly aggressive subtypes.


Farvid MS et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and breast cancer incidence: Repeated measuresover 30 years of follow-up. Int. J.Cancer. 2013.

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5 fruits and vegetables per day

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