By Swati Kulkarni, MD
Over the past 20-30 years we have made tremendous progress in the way we identify and treat breast cancer. Women diagnosed with breast cancer are less likely to develop a recurrence and have improved survival rates.
However, as we continue to develop better therapies for breast cancer it’s also important to focus on strategies to prevent the disease. Prevention not only reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer, it also avoids the often undesirable side effects associated with treatment.
Current options to prevent breast cancer in premenopausal women, a group where we can have the biggest impact, are limited.
Tamoxifen is the only FDA-approved medication for young women who are still menstruating, but it has some undesirable side effects, such as hot flashes and increased risk of deep vein thrombosis.
Many women who are at risk of developing breast cancer, but who are currently cancer free, find these risks unacceptable and decide to just undergo screening.
My primary research interest is breast cancer prevention, and I’m focused on finding alternative strategies to prevent breast cancer and at the same time minimize side effects.
One area I’m looking into is the use of flaxseed as a preventative treatment.
Flaxseed is a natural food that contains the highest source of the lignan secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG) and the highest source of the ω-3 fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid (ALA).
Both SDG and ALA have been shown in preliminary studies to potentially act as breast cancer prevention agents for women at high risk for developing breast cancer in both cell culture and animal models.
Furthermore, the combination of both agents appears to be more effective than the individual components seem to be on their own.
Cell culture studies have shown that flaxseed helped reduce proliferation of breast cancer cells. In animal studies, flaxseed helped reduce tumor growth.
In men and women, flaxseed also decreases tumor proliferation rates in patients with prostate and breast cancers.
I’m running a clinical trial here at the University of Chicago Medicine looking at flaxseed as a possible alternative to current treatments in preventing breast cancer in premenopausal women.
The study involves two groups, one of which consumes 25 grams of ground flaxseed a day for six months while the other maintains a regular diet.
The primary aim is to determine changes in the rate of proliferation in breast cells after six months. The study requires taking cells from the breast using a procedure called random periareolar fine needle aspiration.
Other aims of the trial include whether the flaxseed modifies expression of certain estrogen-regulated genes involved with cell growth and death. The study will also examine tolerability of flaxseed consumption and determine factors that lead to decreased compliance with the treatment.
I hope you will consider telling your patients about the study.
Please visit our website for more information about the study.
Swati Kulkarni, MD, is a skilled breast surgeon and an expert in the management and treatment of breast cancer and benign breast disease. Dr. Kulkarni specializes in surgical breast procedures, including lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy, axillary dissection and mastectomy. Her research focuses on breast cancer prevention, risk assessment, obesity as a risk factor for breast cancer, and molecular markers that predict recurrence after breast cancer diagnosis.