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Study: Breast Cancer + Diet

Since Dorothy Golebuski was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, she's completely changed her diet.

Gone are sugars and red meat, in favor of poultry and vegetables. She says a diet high in protein, fiber and calcium just seemed like the right thing to do.

"I just really feel that diet is a big contributing factor to long-term survival," Golebuski says.

A new study in the journal Cancer suggests she's on the right track, reports CBS News Correspondent John Roberts.

"Women who ate the most protein and poultry had about a 30 percent decreased risk of death compared to the women who ate the least," says Dr. Michelle Holmes of Brigham and Women's Hospital, the study's lead author.

The study's authors don't know why poultry lowered the risk. But Dr. Mitchell Gaynor - an advocate of diet as a cancer preventive - says it may be the way the body reacts to chicken and turkey, producing far fewer cancer growth factors than red meats and sugars. And people who eat poultry also tend to eat other cancer-fighting foods, like fish and crunchy vegetables.

"All these types of foods increase detoxifying enzymes," says Dr. Gaynor. "Detoxifying enzymes are the enzymes that break down cancer-causing chemicals once they reach our bodies."

The study also found that, contrary to popular wisdom, eating a low-fat diet had no effect on survival once cancer had been diagnosed. However, women who ate a lot of fat before cancer developed in their bodies were 70 percent more likely to die.

Holmes' team based its findings on the landmark Nurses Health Study that began in 1976. Some 121,000 women are involved in the ongoing study, which asks its volunteers to fill out questionnaires on a regular basis.

The researchers followed almost 2,000 women with breast cancer for up to 18 years, studying the women's diet after diagnosis.

In the journal article, Holmes wrote "a diet rich in proteins from poultry -- chicken and turkey -- as well as dairy products, but not red meat, appears to play a role in increasing survival for breast cancer patients... There was an approximately 30-35 percent lower risk of death found among those who ate the most poultry and dairy products."

Eating more vegetables also proved beneficial to survival, but only in those whose cancer had not spread beyond the breast, she said.

Holmes said more study was needed to evaluate the role nutrition plays in breast cancer. "This is just the beginning. Other than fat in foods, the other nutrients have not been looked at," she told Reuters.