Breast Wellbeing


Lycopene is an antioxidant found in red fruit, such as tomatoes and watermelon, and over the last decade has been increasingly associated with breast wellbeing. A study found that higher lycopene consumption was associated with lower rates of oestrogen and progesterone receptor positive breast cancer risk in 84,805 postmenopausal women who were followed for an average of 7.6 years [1]. Two studies comparing the dietary habits of women with and without breast cancer also noted a significant decrease in incidence in those who consumed the highest amount of lycopene [2,3]. The latest analysis of eight studies contained more than 80% of the world’s published prospective data on plasma or serum carotenoids and breast cancer. It included over 7,000 subjects and suggests that women with higher circulating levels of lycopene may be at reduced risk of breast cancer [4].
Another study published in 2014 included all first incident breast cancer cases diagnosed between 1994 and 2002. The link between plasma lycopene concentration and overall breast cancer risk was not significant, apart from when excluding cases of breast cancer diagnosed during the first year of follow-up [5].
Effects on biomarkers of breast cancer risk have also been investigated. A study of 207 breast cancer survivors found that lycopene reduced oxidative stress [6]. A recent trial of 36 premenopausal women with a high breast cancer risk found tomato-extract supplementation for two months reduced free insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) by 7% [7]. IGF-I is a biomarker associated with increased breast cancer risk in premenopausal women and it is helpful to have a lower level [8]. Another study found that in women of a healthy weight but at increased risk of breast cancer, a high tomato intake reduced the levels of proteins secreted by adipose tissue, thought to be potential prognostic and diagnostic biomarkers for breast cancer [9].
An in vitro study of human breast cancer cell lines found that lycopene can inhibit cell proliferation, stop the cell cycle phases, and increase cell death [10]. Another in vitro study found that lycopene was an effective agent against triple negative breast cancer cell growth [11].


1. Cui Y, Shikany JM, Liu S, et al. Selected antioxidants and risk of hormone receptor- defined invasive breast cancers among postmenopausal women in the Women’s Health Observational Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87(4):1009–18.
2. Levi F, Pasche C, Lucchini F et al. Dietary intake of selected micronutrients and breast- cancer risk. Int J Cancer 2001; 91(2):260–63.
3. Ronco A, De Stefani E, Boffetta P et al. Vegetables, fruits, and related nutrients and risk of breast cancer: a case-control study in Uruguay. Nutr Cancer 1999; 35(2):111–19.
4. Eliassen AH Hendrickson SJ, Brinton LA et al. Circulating Carotenoids and Risk of Breast Cancer: Pooled Analysis of Eight Prospective Studies, J Natl Cancer Inst 2012; 104(24): 1905–1916.
5. Pouchieu C, Galan P, Ducros V et al. Plasma carotenoids and retinol and overall and breast cancer risk: a nested case-control study. Nutr Cancer 2014;66(6):980-8.
6. Thomson CA, Stendell-Hollis NR, Rock CL et al. Plasma and dietary carotenoids are associated with reduced oxidative stress in women previously treated for breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2007; 16(10):2008–15.
7. Voskuil DW, Vrieling A, Korse CM et al. Effects of lycopene on the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system in premenopausal breast cancer survivors and women at high familial breast cancer risk. Nutr Cancer 2008; 60(3):342–53.
8. Hankinson SE, Willett WC, Colditz GA et al. Circulating concentrations of insulin-like growth factor I and risk of breast cancer. Lancet 1998; 351(9113):1393–96.
9. Llanos AA, Peng J, Pennell ML et al. Effects of tomato and soy on serum adipokineconcentrations in postmenopausal women at increased breast cancer risk: a cross-over dietary intervention trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014;99(2):625-32.
10. Gloria NF, Soares N, Brand C, et al. Lycopene and beta-carotene induce cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in human breast cancer cell lines. Anticancer Res 2014;34(3):1377-86.
11. Takeshima M, Ono M, Higuchi T, et al. Anti-proliferative and apoptosis-inducing activity of lycopene against three subtypes of human breast cancer cell lines. Cancer Sci 2014;105(3):252-7.

Vitamin D

In women, data suggest an association between lower levels of vitamin D and higher rates of breast cancer [1-3]. In addition, studies have shown that women with the least sun exposure have a higher incidence of breast cancer [4]. Larger studies have shown a risk reduction of up to 45% with high blood levels [5] and also with higher daily supplemented dose of vitamin D at >400 IU [6] or >1100 IU [7]. In a large study of 3101 cases and 3471 controls, consuming vitamin D from supplements was independently associated with reduced breast cancer risk [8].
Women in the general population should ensure they are not deficient in vitamin D and safe supplementation should be considered.


1. Colston KW and Hansen CM. Mechanisms implicated in the growth regulatory effects of vitamin D in breast cancer. Endocrine-Related Cancer 2002; 9:45–59.
2. Cui Y and Rohan TE. Vitamin D, calcium, and breast cancer risk: a review. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2006; 15:1427–1437.
3. Welsh J. Vitamin D and prevention of breast cancer. Acta Pharmacol Sin 2007; 28:1373–1382.
4. John EM, Schwartz GG, Dreon DM, Koo J. Vitamin D and breast cancer risk: the NHANES IEpidemiologic follow-up study, 1971-1975 to 1992. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 1999;8: 399-406.
5. Chen P, Hu P, Xie D, Qin Y, Wang F, Wang H. Meta-analysis of vitamin D, calcium and the prevention of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat 2010; 121: 469-477.
6. Gissel T, Rejnmark L, Mosekilde L, Vestergaard P. Intake of vitamin D and risk of breast cancer–a meta-analysis. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 2008;111: 195-199.
7. Lappe J, Cullen D, Haynatzki G, Recker R, Ahlf R, Thompson K. Calcium and vitamin d supplementation decreases incidence of stress fractures in female navy recruits. J Bone Miner Res 2008;23:741-749.
8. Anderson LN, Cotterchio M, Vieth R, Knight JA. Vitamin D and calcium intakes and breast cancer risk in pre- and postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010; 91:1699-1707.


Zinc influences the human body through a number of channels affecting not only cell division, protein synthesis and growth, but also gene expression and a variety of reproductive and immunologic functions [1]. Zinc deficiency in the human body is linked with reduced physical growth, lower immune competence and suppressed neural development [2]. Zinc has been well studied in relation to breast cancer. A US study of mortality rates between 1970-1994, found that low zinc intake may be linked to breast cancer risk. [3]. A study of 2362 Canadian women showed that supplementation of zinc for ten years or longer was associated with significant reductions in premenopausal breast cancer risk. For postmenopausal women, supplementations of ten years or longer of multiple vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc were associated with statistically significant reductions in breast cancer risk [4]. Also, in a study of 588 women looking at hereditary breast cancer, low blood zinc level appeared to be linked with breast cancer risk in BRCA1 carriers and non-carriers of the gene, whereas higher blood zinc levels reduced cancer risk, especially in BRCA1 carriers [5].


1. Hess SY, Lönnerdal B, Hotz C, Rivera JA, Brown KH. Recent advances in knowledge of zinc nutrition and human health. In: Brown KH, Hess SY, editors. International Zinc Nutrition Consultative Group Technical Document No 2 Systematic reviews of zinc intervention strategies. 2009.
2. IZiNCG Assessment of the risk of zinc deficiency in populations and options for its control. Food Nutr Bull. 2004;25:91–204.
3. Grant WB. An ecological study of cancer mortality rates including indices for dietary iron and zinc. Anticancer Res. 2008 May-Jun;28(3B):1955-63.
4. Pan SY, Zhou J, Gibbons L et al. Antioxidants and breast cancer risk- a population-based case control study in Canada. BMC Cancer, 2011;11:372.
5. Kaczmarek K, Jakubowska A, Sukiennicki G et al. Zinc and Breast Cancer. Hered Cancer Clin Pract. 2012;10(Suppl 4): A6.


Curcumin, extracted from the Indian spice turmeric, appears to be useful in preventing breast cancer from developing. While breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide [1], the incidence of breast cancer in India is among the lowest in the world – over three times lower than in the UK [2]. The reasons for this are complex, but it is interesting to note that India also has the highest worldwide consumption of turmeric, a primary source of dietary curcumin. Curcumin appears to be useful in preventing human breast cancer development after the carcinogen triclocarban (from household cleaning products) is added to breast cells to stimulate cancer [3].
Women with breast cancer may wish to consume curcumin as a food supplement in order to avoid the fat associated with spicy foods such as curries.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1999–2011 Incidence and Mortality Web-Based Report. Atlanta GA: Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; [Accessed 25 Nov 2014]. Available from:
2. World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer. GLOBOCAN. Lyon, France: 2012. [Accessed 25 Nov 2014]. Available from:
3. Sood S, Choudhary S, Wang H-CR. Induction of human breast cell carcinogenesis by triclocarban and intervention by curcumin, Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2013; 438(4): 600–606.

For extended reading, you can download examinations of the relationship between diet, food supplements and health conditions here