Study: Dieting with Radiation May Benefit Breast-Cancer Patients

Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center will begin the first-ever clinical trial that uses dieting to improve outcomes for breast-cancer patients this month.

Sure, cutting calories can help you lose weight. But in a first-of-its-kind clinical trial underway at Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center, researchers are aiming to prove that restricting caloric intake could be a powerful treatment tool for breast-cancer patients.

Beginning in this month, the Kimmel team is running a trial that utilizes calorie restriction as a complementary therapy for early-stage breast cancer patients undergoing radiation, a measure they’ve already seen success with in lab tests. “In our research, we’ve seen a 30 percent reduction in tumor size in mice, and they live much longer than mice not on a diet,” said Nicole Simone, principal investigator and assistant professor of radiation oncology at Thomas Jefferson University, in a press release.

The trial will begin by enrolling 40 women on a calorie-reduction diet (25 percent less than a patient’s typical total intake) while undergoing treatment. It will last 10 weeks, with patients keeping a nutritional journal and meeting with counselors weekly. Experts from Jefferson’s Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine will work with patients to make sure their diet fits their needs.

Dieting during radiation therapy is not a new idea, but it’s one that’s often overlooked. And until now, it has never been applied specifically to breast-cancer patients. Preliminary data demonstrated that calorie restriction stunted tumor growth when adopted during radiation therapy in two types of breast cancer: triple negative breast cancer and locally aggressive breast cancer. The general idea is that calorie reduction alters molecular pathways, leaving cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation therapy.

If the team’s hunch is correct, oncologists could begin prescribing diets as part of a patient’s breast-cancer treatment plan. Unlike medications, dieting is extremely cost effective, and, as Simone said, it “enhances cancer therapy while minimizing side effects.”

Fingers crossed.

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