What should breast cancer patients eat during Taxol (paclitaxel) chemotherapy?

Many breast cancer patients who under chemotherapy are given Taxol (paclitaxel) as part of their regimen. Chemotherapy is designed to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the breast and the remainder of the body before or after surgery. Chemotherapy is effective in improving breast cancer survivorship: numerous studies have found that it protects against breast cancer recurrence and metastases in other organs of the body. Please discuss this article with your oncologist before starting Taxol or any other taxane therapy (e.g., docetaxel (Taxotere)).

Taxol and other taxanes can result in side effects such as hair loss, bone marrow suppression, nausea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and serious infections. While obtaining relief from these side effects obviously is desirable, it is very important for breast cancer patients to avoid consuming foods or taking supplements that will lessen the cytotoxic impact of chemotherapy on breast cancer cells. While various micronutrients found in fruits, vegetables and other foods have been shown to help protect against breast cancer development and metastasis, some of the same micronutrients might enable breast cancer cells to survive chemotherapy.

Therefore, the strategy we recommend during chemotherapy and for the following month is to consume the foods recommended below, as well as those listed on the bland chemotherapy diet (also below), while limiting or avoiding the foods that should not be consumed while on Taxol (as well as those on our avoid list).

Foods that enhance the effectiveness of Taxol

The following foods are very good sources of compounds that have been shown to increase the anti-cancer effects of Taxol:

Brussels sprouts
Collard greens
Grape juice, purple
Grapes, red
Green tea
Mustard greens
Olive oil
Onions, yellow
Salmon, wild

In addition, sour cherries, olive oil and vitamin D might relieve joint and muscle pain, although their effectiveness has not specifically been studied in the context of taxane chemotherapy.

Foods and other products that should not be used during Taxol chemotherapy

The following foods and supplements have been found either to interfere with the effectiveness of Taxol or, in the case of raw shellfish, should not be consumed by those with impaired immunity:

Açaí berries
Hormone replacement therapy, including bioidentical or natural hormones
Mint tea
Multivitamins & antioxidant supplements
Shellfish, raw

Bland diet for use during Taxol chemotherapy

The foods listed below have been selected based on our research concerning their antimutagenic, antioxidant, and cancer-protective properties. The list de-emphasizes antimutagenic and high-antioxidant foods such as brightly colored fruits and vegetables, while featuring bland, as well as somewhat bitter-tasting foods that have no known carcinogenic effects. Select as wide a variety of these foods as possible and consume any one of them in moderation in addition to the foods recommended above.

Almonds, skinless
Apple juice, filtered
Beans, white
Bread - wheat or rye - white
Coconut, raw
Cucumbers, peeled
Green beans, boiled
Honey, filtered, light colored
Lettuce, iceberg
Melons, pale winter (casaba, crenshaw, honeydew, Canary, Santa Claus)
Onions, Vidalia
Peaches – white, peeled
Pears, peeled
Peas, boiled
Potatoes, white, peeled
Rice, white
Vinegar, white
Yogurt, low-fat
Zucchini, peeled

Overcoming Taxol resistance

There is limited evidence that certain foods might be beneficial for those on longer-term Taxol chemotherapy. While initial responses are often very favorable, most patients eventually develop resistance to Taxol. One study has demonstrated that it is possible to overcome Taxol resistance in breast cancer cells the laboratory. Please see the related news story.

Additional comments

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce fatigue in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. However, one study suggested that intense or prolonged physical activity a couple of days before the start of radiation or chemotherapy has significant potential to reduce the benefits of the treatments. Based on the available evidence, light aerobic exercise appears advisable during treatment with Taxol.

We caution against taking curcumin, EGCG, GLA, I3C, DIM, luteolin, quercetin or resveratrol in supplement form because of the possibility of unintended consequences. Safe and effective dosages for these supplements during chemotherapy have not been established.

Curcumin has been shown to be an iron chelator, which could negatively impact some women undergoing chemotherapy by reducing their iron stores.

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