A study suggests that postmenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer have a lower risk of dying from the disease if they take a multivitamin with minerals.
The research is part of the very large Women’s Health Initiative Clinical Trials and the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Both studies are commonly called the WHI. Together, the two studies include information from more than 161,608 postmenopausal women who were ages 50 to 79 when they joined from 1993 to 1998. The WHI wants to find any links between health, diet, and lifestyle factors and health problems, such as cancer.
This study was published in the October 2013 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Read the abstract of “Multivitamin and mineral use and breast cancer mortality in older women with invasive breast cancer in the women’s health initiative.”
For this analysis, the researchers looked at 7,728 women who were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer after the WHI started and were followed for about 7 years after being diagnosed. When women enrolled in the WHI and at each follow-up visit, they were asked about any vitamins and supplements they took. About 38% of the women said they were taking a multivitamin with minerals when they enrolled in the study. Most of these women were taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement before they were diagnosed with breast cancer.
About 7 years after diagnosis, 518 women (6.7%) had died from breast cancer.
After taking into account other breast cancer risk factors, including smoking, weight, alcohol use, and exercise, the researchers found that women who took a multivitamin with minerals were 30% less likely to die from breast cancer than women who didn’t take a multivitamin with minerals.
While the results are encouraging, it’s important to keep several things in mind:
- This study doesn’t prove that taking a multivitamin with minerals lowers the risk of dying from breast cancer. There could be many other factors that are affecting the outcome, including the characteristics of the cancer and a woman’s age. Much more research is necessary before doctors understand any possible links between multivitamins with minerals and breast cancer.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, always check with your doctor before you start taking a new vitamin or other supplement. Some vitamins and minerals can interfere with breast cancer treatments and reduce their effectiveness.
- This study only looked at postmenopausal women diagnosed with breast cancer. The results can’t be applied to premenopausal women and they can’t be applied to women who haven’t been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- The study didn’t look to see if women were following their breast cancer treatment plans completely. Stopping a treatment early would affect the results.
If you’re a postmenopausal woman who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, it makes sense to make healthy diet and lifestyle choices to keep your risk of recurrence as low as it can be, including:
- eating a diet low in added sugar and processed foods
- eating a diet rich in unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods
- exercising regularly at the highest intensity level you’re comfortable with
- avoiding alcohol
- not smoking
It also makes sense to stick to your treatment plan. Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can require trips to the hospital or doctor’s office for several months. You also may need to take medicines for 5 or 10 years after surgery. You get the best results when you follow your plan completely and on schedule.
For tips on how to overcome common problems with following a treatment plan, visit the Breastcancer.org Staying on Track with Treatment pages.