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Study to Search for Link Between Diet, Breast Cancer

By Ridgely Ochs

Nine sites in New York have been chosen for a study of whether a low-fat diet will help prevent breast cancer from recurring.

The American Cancer Society, which is organizing the study, is hoping to get about 2,000 postmenopausal women from around the state who have been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer since Jan. 1, 1991, said Dr. Daniel Nixon, the society's vice president for cancer detection and treatment and the project's author.

For five years, half of the women would eat a diet in which fat provides only 15 percent of their daily calories. The other half would go on a 30 percent fat diet, the maximum level currently recommended by the American Cancer Society.

Volunteers who have a medical background or training in nutrition would monitor and counsel women in the study. It will begin only after a smaller, 18-month feasibility study determines if volunteers can easily monitor participants.

While it is not clear what role, if any, a high-fat diet plays in causing breast cancer, many studies have shown a link between fat and a recurrence of the disease. Overweight women who have had breast cancer have had the disease recur sooner and have a lower survival rate than thinner women.

Coordinators at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., where part of the study will be conducted, said they are excited by the project but admit that it's going to be tough to get women to stick to a low-fat diet.

"It's going to be really hard, but it's doable," said Dr. Lora Weiselberg, an attending oncologist at North Shore University Hospital. "Women in this group are going to be highly motivated."

One reason fat is suspected of promoting breast cancer is that it produces a form of estrogen, the female hormone that has been shown to make breast cancer cells grow faster.

The relationship of estrogen, diet and cancer is the subject of intense research. In a study released Monday, National Cancer Institute researchers found that moderate drinking of alcohol -- two drinks a day -- raised estrogen levels in the 34 women, aged 21-40, who were studied.