HealthDay News — Eating a low-fat diet may reduce the risk of premature death in some women with breast cancer, research presented at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held from Dec. 9 to 13 in San Antonio indicates.

“The current findings with respect to long-term influence of dietary lifestyle intervention on overall survival are mixed, but of potential importance,” said Rowan Chlebowski, MD, PhD, a medical oncologist at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in a press release from the American Association for Cancer Research.

To investigate the impact of a low-fat diet on survival rates, the investigators followed 2,437 women aged 48 to 79 diagnosed with estrogen receptor (ER)-positive cancers (n=1,597) or ER-negative or ER-negative and progesterone receptor (PR)-negative disease (n=840).

All study participants had early-stage breast cancer and received treatment between 1994 and 2001. About half of the women were assigned to follow low-fat diets, reducing their fat intake by almost 10% of total calories. They also lost an average of six pounds, noted the study authors.

When the researchers looked at all the women in the low-fat group, regardless of type of cancer, and compared them to those who didn’t lower fat intake, the death rate was somewhat lower in the low-fat group — 13.6% versus 17%. That difference was not considered statistically significant, however. It was only with focus on the subgroup with hormone-unrelated cancers (ER-negative or ER-negative and PR-negative disease) that the more favorable effect was apparent.

“Our findings suggest that if a lifestyle intervention is to have long-term influence on clinical outcome, it must be a lifelong change rather than be a short-term alteration,” said Chlebowski.


This study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the American Institute of Cancer Research. Chlebowski has received consulting support from Pfizer, Novartis, Amgen, Genomic Health, and Novo Nordisk, and honorarium from Novartis.