Advising Women Undergoing Treatment for Breast Cancer: A Narrative Review

J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Sep/Oct;24(9-10):902-909. doi: 10.1089/acm.2018.0150.


A majority of women undergoing conventional treatment for breast cancer also undertake complementary and integrative approaches. Practitioners knowledgeable about the evidence base behind common integrative approaches can help patients attain improved quality of life, and at times, improved survival. Evidence-based recommendations include the following: a plant-based diet for general health after diagnosis, and carbohydrate restriction for patients with estrogen receptor-positive postmenopausal breast cancer may be prudent. Other dietary recommendations include a 13-h daily overnight fast. Carefully selected patients may choose to fast the day before and the day of chemotherapy to decrease side effects. Specific food recommendations include avoidance or limitation of alcohol, and liberal culinary use of cruciferous vegetables, coffee, green tea, soy, and flaxseed. Promising supplements include diindolylmethane and melatonin. Omega 3 fatty acids may help with bone density in patients on aromatase inhibitors, but may increase chemotherapy resistance. Findings regarding the usefulness of multivitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, and vitamin E are weak and/or mixed different exercise modalities may have different effects and thus play different roles in breast cancer therapy. Aerobic and resistance training combined during breast cancer chemotherapy may confer a survival benefit, while yoga may improve outcome in lymphedema patients. Current evidence suggests that meditation, yoga, breathing, music therapy, guided imagery, and hypnosis may improve mood and quality of life during breast cancer treatment. Acupuncture is useful for treating side effects of breast cancer therapies, including hot flushes, aromatase inhibitor-induced joint pain, chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, and vulvodynia. Vaginal moisturizers and vaginal rings supplying low-dose estrogen can be useful in the treatment of symptoms of estrogen-deprivation states caused by breast cancer treatments; such symptoms include vaginal dryness, dyspareunia, and sexual dysfunction. Carbon dioxide laser technology can rejuvenate atrophied vaginal mucosa and relieve dyspareunia, allowing avoidance of estrogen therapy. Tertiary sexual health centers are available for referral.

Keywords: cancer; dietary supplements; integrative therapies; intermittent fasting; nutrition; stress management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Diet Therapy
  • Diet, Vegetarian
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Exercise
  • Fasting
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Integrative Oncology
  • Oncologists
  • Phytotherapy