Following a low-fat diet that contains more vegetables and fruits could lower older women's risks of getting diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently dying from any cause, a new study revealed.

Researchers under the Women's Health Initiative analyzed a pool of data that involved nearly 50,000 postmenopausal women from the 1990s to determine the effect of a low-fat, high-fruit and vegetable diet on breast cancer risk.

Study participants were divided into two groups: the first group, which contained 40 percent of the women, was expected to change their diet. They worked to reduce their intake of dietary fat by 32 percent to 20 percent, and boost their intake of vegetables and fruits. The other 60 percent did not change their diet.

The women in the first group spent at least eight years sticking to their diet goals and lost about 6 pounds (2.72 kilograms) during the first year, researchers found.

When focused on breast cancer followed by death during the eight-year period, experts saw that those on the low-fat diet were 35 percent less likely to be spotted with breast cancer and then die from any cause.

Additionally, the team discovered that eating a low-fat diet increased older women's breast cancer survival by 20 percent.

"[The study] indicates that [a diet with] substantially reduced fat content as well as increased fruits and vegetables improved breast cancer-related outcomes," said epidemiologist and statistician Dr. Ross Prentice, one of the lead researchers of the study.

Past Studies

The women in the study no longer received dietary counselling after a decade, but researchers followed them through 2014.

For those who were diagnosed with breast cancer, the same research team had found that a high percent of the patients on a low-fat diet for eight years were still alive.

Specifically, 82 percent of those sticking to a low-fat diet were still alive, compared to 78 percent of those eating a diet with higher levels of fat. It was a 4 percent higher chance of absolute survival, the team said.

Researchers then decided to focus on breast cancer-related outcomes during the eight-year period. Thus, they discovered the results of the new study.

"It's the first time in this dietary modification trial that we see a clear benefit," said Prentice. "It's exciting."

Meanwhile, the study does not indicate cause-and-effect, but rather, it should guide future studies about the value of low-fat diets.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

Photo: Lisa Pinehill | Flickr

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