Can food choice dictate tumour characteristics?

Tuesday 13 July 2004

The size, strain and seriousness of tumours could be dictated by what you eat.

Dr Margaret Ritchie from the University of St Andrews is embarking on a two-year project – the first of its kind in the world – to investigate a possible link between exposure to certain foods and a breast cancer tumour’s characteristics, ranging from its aggressiveness to its reaction to cancer treatments. The research may also establish whether phyto- oestrogen exposure reduces the risk of breast cancer recurring.

Dr Ritchie, based in the Bute Medical School, has been awarded a Melville Trust Research Fellowship to carry out the work which may eventually lead to phyto-oestrogen supplements being given to women most likely to develop the disease – women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations or those in socially deprived groups. Foods containing high levels of phyto- oestrogens include wholemeal bread, soya yoghurt, raisins and other fruit.

Dr Ritchie said, “We already know that diet influences the incidence of many cancers but little is known about the effect of diet on the characteristics of cancers which actually develop. Ultimately, this work could improve a woman’s survival rate and give her a much better prognosis.”

Two groups of women will be involved in the study – those with breast cancer and those opting for breast reduction who are free from disease.

The study will use validated food frequency questionnaires and Dr Ritchie’s world-first validated biomarkers of phyto-oestrogen intake and phyto-oestrogen database. The study will also involve analysis of blood and urine samples and tumour tissue (including tissue remote remote from the tumour). Other risk factors including the use of oral contraceptives, family history of breast cancer and number of children will also be taken into account.

Dr Ritchie continued, “Each year, nearly 40,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer. The results of the study may provide the first insight into whether phyto- oestrogens can prevent breast cancer or influence tumour characteristics and whether phyto- oestrogen supplements could help prevent breast cancer in young women with BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations or those in socially deprived groups”.


Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information, please contact Claire Grainger, Press Officer – 01334 462530, 07730 415 015 or [email protected]

Margaret Ritchie is available for interview – 01334 463605 or 07711 810 162

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