New Research Reveals Heart-Healthy Diet Benefits for Breast Cancer Survivors

by Ella

Recent research conducted by Kaiser Permanente sheds light on the potential cardiovascular benefits of a heart-healthy diet for breast cancer survivors. Published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum, the study underscores the importance of prioritizing heart health education for this population, given the heightened risk of heart disease following a breast cancer diagnosis.

Breast cancer ranks as the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in the United States, with heart disease emerging as the leading cause of mortality. Alarmingly, breast cancer survivors face an elevated risk of heart disease, attributed in part to certain cancer treatments known to inflict cardiac damage. Additionally, both breast cancer and heart disease share common risk factors, including poor dietary habits, obesity, and smoking.


Lead author Isaac Ergas, PhD, MPH, MFA, a staff scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, emphasized the need to address the heightened cardiovascular risk faced by breast cancer survivors. “Many people are not aware that breast cancer survivors have a higher risk of developing heart disease than women who have not had breast cancer,” Ergas stated. Recognizing the potential impact of diet on heart health, the research team delved into the relationship between diet quality and the future risk of heart disease among women diagnosed with breast cancer.


The study drew upon data from the Pathways Study, a comprehensive investigation tracking women from the time of their breast cancer diagnosis. Analyzing information from 3,415 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer at Kaiser Permanente Northern California between 2005 and 2013, the researchers followed their progress through 2021. Participants had previously completed a diet questionnaire upon entry into the Pathways Study.


Assessing five distinct healthy dietary patterns, including the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Eating Plan, the study unveiled compelling findings. Women whose dietary choices mirrored the recommendations of the DASH Eating Plan exhibited a significantly reduced risk of heart disease. Specifically, they demonstrated a 47% lower risk of heart failure, a 23% lower risk of arrhythmia, a 23% lower risk of cardiac arrest, a 21% lower risk of valvular heart disease, and a 25% lower risk of blood clot development compared to those with dietary habits less aligned with the DASH guidelines.


Commenting on the study’s implications, Dr. Tatjana Kolevska, MD, chair of The Permanente Medical Group Medical Oncology and Hematology, expressed enthusiasm for the research’s potential impact on clinical practice. “It is exciting to see the results of this excellent work that empowers our oncologists to recommend evidence-based lifestyle medicine recommendations,” Dr. Kolevska remarked.

Further analysis explored the influence of chemotherapy treatments on the relationship between the DASH diet and heart health. Notably, women treated with anthracycline chemotherapy, known for its potential cardiotoxic effects, experienced a lower risk of cardiovascular disease when adhering to a diet resembling the DASH Eating Plan.

The DASH Eating Plan advocates for a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats while limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and saturated fats. Senior author Marilyn Kwan, PhD, a research scientist at the Division of Research, underscored the significance of promoting dietary quality among breast cancer survivors as a means to mitigate both cancer recurrence and cardiovascular disease risk.

Looking ahead, Ergas and his team plan to launch a pilot study to assess a new tool for evaluating cancer patients’ dietary patterns. If successful, this tool could potentially empower clinicians to gauge patients’ dietary habits and provide personalized recommendations to enhance heart health.

In summary, the study underscores the importance of adopting a heart-healthy diet in mitigating cardiovascular risk among breast cancer survivors. By prioritizing dietary quality, healthcare providers can play a pivotal role in safeguarding the long-term cardiovascular health of individuals following a breast cancer diagnosis.



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