Breast cancer – your questions answered

Professor Jane Plant, author of Your Life in Your Hands, cured herself of cancer through a radical change in diet. Here, she answers members questions.

Q: My cancer was oestrogen positive and I have been advised to not have soya – should I really avoid it?

PJP: Oestrogen in soya is in the form of phytoestrogens and almost all vegetables contain phytoestrogens. The phytoestrogens in soya are between five-hundredth to a thousandth of the strength of normal oestrogen. They are considered by most authorities, including the Royal Society, to be entirely protective.

Q: What amounts of soya do you feel that an individual suffering from breast cancer should take each day and in what form is the soya best taken?

PJP: The ideal form is miso, tofu, tempeh, natto or soya milk, but not processed soya products which can contain other unnecessary additives and may not contain the beneficial phytoestrogens. Also select organic non-GMO soya. Aim for a serving a day.

Q: My mother and grandmother both had breast cancer. How can I prevent it?

PJP: Follow my diet. The genes implicated in breast cancer are tumour suppressor genes, which means the cells don’t have a brake on their growth. So provided you cut out as many growth factors as possible – milk and meat being the main sources – then these genes are less likely to be needed to control cell growth. A good diet can cut risk by up to 40% but you must also have regular checks. However, recent research from the Netherlands suggests preventative mastectomy can reduce breast cancer risk by more than 80% in those carrying the BRCA1 or 2 genes.

Q: Should women submit themselves to regular breast screening?

PJP: One has to be aware that ionising radiation can itself cause cancer so breast cancer screening involving mammography should be used with some considerable caution, depending on how much other radiation you’ve had in your life including from x-rays and CT scans. You can ask for ultrasound or thermal methods of screening. I would also advocate being breast aware yourself, which I explain in my book.

Q: I would like to ask whether there have been any serious studies to determine environmental causes of breast cancer?

PJP: Interesting question. There is not really enough reliable evidence at this point in time that definitely links electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) with breast cancer. The main environmental association is with hormone-disrupting chemicals in the environment. However, there are two interesting relevant pieces of research. One reviewed studies on those working in the electrical industry and found an increased risk of breast cancer – in both male and female workers (L S Caplan et al, Breast cancer and electromagnetic fields – a review, Annals of Epidemiology, 2000, vol 10(1), pp 31-440). But this group also tends to be exposed to high levels of PCBs (hormone-disrupting chemicals), so whether it’s the EMR or the PCBs isn’t clear. The other study is of more concern. It looked at human cell lines and the affect of EMR on breast cancer cells, and found that the cell proliferation rate increases when exposed to EMR. (J D Harland & R P Liburdy, Environmental magnetic fields inhibit the antiproliferative action of tamoxifen and melatonin in a human breast cancer cell line. Bioelectromagnetics, 1997, vol 18(8), pp 555-562). But there’s still so much we don’t yet know – and much research that needs to be done.

Q: I am confused about grapefruit as it’s been suggested they should not be included in a breast-cancer-prevention diet. I have one grapefruit every two weeks. Is that acceptable?

PJP: The association between daily grapefruit intake and breast cancer has been identified in one study and has not, as far as I am aware, been reproduced. I don’t know of a mechanism that would explain this association. One possible explanation could be that grapefruit often have a high pesticide residue. Personally, I do eat grapefruit every day.

Q: Has a study ever been done on the correlation between blood type and breast cancer in women?

PJP: This is a good question. I’ve never been able to find one. Given that the Chinese population, like our own, has similar proportions of different blood groups, but a massively different incidence of breast and prostate cancer, I think that dietary and lifestyle factors are much more significant than blood type. However, I know of no good research on this.

Q: I notice that the tamoxifen I am prescribed contains lactose. Should I worry about this – and is there a non-lactose option?

PJP: You can get lactose-free Tamoxifen. If you say you are dairy intolerant you can get it. Pure lactose itself is unlikely to be a problem, but there are concerns about the way lactose is isolated from milk, and therefore may be contaminated with some growth factors.

Q: What’s your view on Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumours (GISTs)?

PJP: I’m sorry I don’t know much about this specific tumour. In cases of gastric cancers, they are generally classified as cancers related to chronic infections. Raised levels of IGF-1 increase colo-rectal cancer risk. I would expect that raised IGF and other growth factors from dairy and animal protein would promote the growth of these tumours in any case. The most common breast cancers are those that are hormonally responsive to oestrogen and progesterone, with a smaller number being sensitive to the HER2 receptor. The so called ‘triple negative’ breast cancers are not responsive to any of these factors, and account for 15-20% of breast cancers. How can these kinds of breast cancer be helped? These types of breast cancers are still promoted by growth factors, most notably IGF-1 (and EGF in the case of HER2 cancer), and hence still respond to my programme.

Q: What advice would you give for a man who has breast cancer? Do you know if the same hormone that causes prostrate cancer is also the cause of male breast cancer?

PJP: I recommend following more or less the same advice for male breast cancer as for prostate cancer. I’m not aware of any research that would definitely answer this. Anecdotally we notice that the husbands of many women with breast cancer often develop prostate cancer. This may reflect the shared issue of dairy product consumption which contains 35 different hormones and eleven different growth factors.

Q: None of the medical professionals I encountered in the course of treatment for my breast cancer have advised anything to do with diet or drinking alcohol. Is it that they don’t know or understand the benefits of a better eating regime, or are they afraid to speak out against a ‘normal’ British diet?

PJP: I think they are afraid to speak out because medicine has to be a very orthodox profession, by its nature. Also, the amount of training in nutrition that doctors receive was described as ‘scanty’ by a recent Associate Parliamentary Report.

Q: Does draining breast lumps with needles spread the cancer cells?

PJP: There’s a lot of old wives tales that if you disturb breast cancer cells they spread – but I’ve not been able to finding any scientific evidence for this.

Q: My doctor wants to switch me from Tamoxifen to Arimidex (or a similar aromatase inhibitor). What’s your view on these drugs? Is natural progesterone cream an alternative to Tamoxifen?

PJP: The main danger from aromatase inhibitors is bone thinning. Therefore you need to follow a diet which contains 80% alkaline-forming foods and only 20% acid-forming foods. There’s a comprehensive chart of alkaline-forming foods on my website (see Also read Patrick’s article, ‘Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence Risk Naturally’ which explains and compares the effectiveness of these different drugs. Natural progesterone, provided it is derived from plant origin, has benefits and works by balancing the body’s oestrogen in a different mode of action to tamoxifen. So they are not mutually exclusive.But always discuss with your doctor .

Professor Jane Plant is author of Your Life in Your Hands (on breast cancer) and Prostate Cancer (both published by Virgin).