Study will examine effects of plant-based diet in patients with advanced breast cancer

Feb 15, 2018

Credit freeimages.com/marcelo brito filho

Researchers at Highland Hospital are getting ready to launch a first-of-its kind study that will examine the effects of a plant-based diet in patients with advanced breast cancer.

"To my knowledge, we have never had a nutrition intervention comprised of a whole dietary shift in advanced cancer patients, in any type of cancer," said Thomas M. Campbell II, M.D., medical director of the hospital’s Weight Management and Lifestyle Center.

There is already evidence that a plant-based diet can change hormone levels, body weight, and inflammation, all of which relate to cancer risk.  But Campbell says there is a gap in human research for patients with advanced cancer.

"If we find that is has a benefit in some way on how women feel, or their symptoms, or any of their biochemistry, I think it warrants a more definitive study."

The six week study will involve thirty advanced breast cancer patients who are currently receiving conventional cancer therapy. Twenty patients will be placed on a whole food, plant-based diet for six weeks and ten patients will be in a control group.

One of the goals for researchers is to determine the feasibility of such a diet. Will people make the necessary lifestyle change? Campbell says that’s not a difficult question for those facing a profound diagnosis.

"I think some people, their back is kind of against the wall and they have very high motivation and the idea of eating oatmeal for breakfast doesn't seem like a difficult thing to do.”

Researchers will evaluate what effect, if any, the plant-based diet has on the patients’ quality of life. They will also use PET-CT scans to measure the metabolic activity of tumors during the six-week study. 

Dr. Campbell co-authored the book, “The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health.”  The Highland Hospital study has received a $1.5 million grant from the nonprofit T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies in Ithaca.