New Cancer Study Surprises Researchers

Eating more fruits and vegetables may not have an impact on cancer survival rates, contrary to conventional wisdom. After more than a decade of research, scientists have results on a comprehensive diet prevention study for breast cancer survivors. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

The results of the study were surprising to Dr. Lovell Jones at M.D. Anderson's Center for Research on Minority Health.

"What we now realize is that really there's no added benefit to eating a super-diet, as we call it, versus just a healthy diet."

The super-diet Jones is referring to is the diet plan given to the test group of women. More than 1,500 early stage breast cancer survivors were put on a low-fat, high-fiber diet with at least nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. The control group also contained about 1,500 breast cancer survivors who maintained a standard healthy diet with about five servings of fruits and vegetables. The results showed no statistical difference between the two diets.

"One of the things we need to be clear about is that this does not say that eating more is not beneficial for other diseases. It may be beneficial for cardiovascular, it may be beneficial for diabetes. But at least in this study, eating more than five to seven fruits a day does not add any additional benefit."

Jones is quick to point out the women in the control group were still following a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. So although there's no apparent benefit for cancer patients from following a super-diet, a healthy diet is still a factor in cancer recurrence and deaths.

"The U.S. population is probably eating somewhere around three to less servings of fruits and vegetables and that hasn't changed in the last ten years. And that's one of the things we'd like to stress, is that at least in this study eating five to seven fruits and vegetables was beneficial. And so if we can get the general population up to this level, they may see a benefit."

M.D. Anderson Cancer Center enrolled 380 women in the study, including the majority of black and hispanic women who participated. Jones says one of the next steps in the analysis of the data will be to determine if the diet had different statistical outcomes among minority women compared to the general population. The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and conducted over a ten-year period at a number of sites across the country. The results appear this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...