HER2-positive breast cancer: foods to eat or avoid

HER2-positive breast cancer: foods to eat or avoid

A breast cancer diagnosis comes with a long list of things to worry about. 
For many women, some of them include diet and nutrition.

While it is normal to consider the possibility that food led to the generation of the tumour, there is very limited evidence that the scientific community can evaluate, and therefore findings are inconclusive.

Beyond this, it is natural to wonder what one can do to improve quality of life, through simple ways - such as food. Even though the evidence is not clear, we present some of the early findings below for patients to consider and discuss with their doctor and medical team.

First, however, let's try to understand a bit more why it is called "HER2 positive breast cancer".

HER2 positive breast cancer: What is it?

HER2 is a protein. Sometimes, a gene mutation can lead to excessive production of this protein, which may in turn make cancer cells grow and spread faster. You may also read/hear this as “overexpression of the HER2 protein”.

It is important to note that you do not necessarily inherit this gene mutation from your parents, and you do not pass it on to your children.

It is estimated that about 1 in every 5 (20%) of breast cancers diagnosed are characterised as HER2-positive.

Although it can be thought of as being an aggressive cancer, the treatments developed against it are considered generally effective.

Nutrition and HER2-positive breast cancer

As mentioned, HER2 is a protein. However, please note that this does not imply any association with our protein intake; after all, this is a gene we all have.

Although there are no specific scientific guidelines for this type of breast cancer in terms of nutrition, extensive research has been conducted in order to identify potential recommendations. Here we will present some of this research, but please note that it is inconclusive and does not imply recommendation.

  • Natural compound found in figs and celery attacks HER2-positive breast cancer cells: In 2014, scientists at Duke University in the US discovered a compound (psoralen) that blocks the function of this gene. 
  • Extra virgin olive oil may assist Trastuzumab in treating HER2+ breast cancer: Spanish researchers in 2007 studied the effect of olive oil’s "bitter principle" on reversing the cell resistance built to Trastuzumab.
  • Another compound was found to kill HER2+ cells: In 2004, Taiwanese scientists showed that apigenin (found in parsley, celery, Chinese cabbage etc) leads to the death of these cells.

Please note that these were based on pre-clinical research (i.e. not on trials on humans).

As always, please consult your medical team when considering specific changes to your diet against your type of breast cancer.

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