A breast cancer patient refused to take powerful drugs she was offered to stop the disease returning – and chose to depend on a spicy low-fat diet instead.
Following surgery, Vicky Sewart, 44, was worried about possible side-effects from taking the medication.
So instead, she launched herself into a health regime of exercise and specially chosen foods, including turmeric, which she claims ‘makes cancer cells commit suicide’.
Experts have warned there is little scientific evidence to back up her claims.
But Miss Sewart believes that the diet she followed after undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery was a vital part of her recovery from the disease.
Her experience will now form part of an academic study into how lifestyle can affect the body’s response to cancer.
After she was diagnosed, Miss Sewart did her own research into which foods might have a positive impact on her recovery.
And following an operation to remove a breast and lymph node four years ago, she told doctors she would not take Tamoxifen during remission but would be following her own ‘anti-cancer’ diet instead.
She said: ‘It’s very unusual for breast cancer patients not to take the drug.
‘When I told the doctors I didn’t want to take it, they just advised me to keep oestrogen out of my body, which is basically what the drug does.
This was four years ago and I think attitudes are changing a bit now so that these ideas are running alongside the more usual treatments.
‘I believe absolutely enormously that my diet has assisted my recovery.’
Explaining her decision not to take Tamoxifen, she went on: ‘It was the worry of the drugs and the side effects, I didn’t want to have to worry about it, I wanted to be free.’
The jewellery designer and gallery owner started her health regime with a mostly organic vegan diet, cutting out all dairy products, adding plenty of ‘super-foods’, and taking moderate exercise.
She said: ‘Fresh fruit, vegetables and juices are great, and frozen berries are fantastic as a super-food. Turmeric kind of makes cancer cells commit suicide and ginger and garlic are great to cook with.’
For the past four years, Miss Sewart has provided blood and urine samples and filled in regular questionnaires as part of national research into how lifestyle can help prevent the recurrence of breast cancer after surgery.
The largest study of its kind in the world, it involves 56 hospitals around the UK and 3,400 patients who have had the disease.
The full results will be published next year.
Meanwhile, Miss Sewart, from Plymouth, is hoping to mark her five-year remission next summer and is due to marry later this year.
Describing her experience of cancer, she added: ‘People can die, or come back from it and enjoy life.
‘You’ve just got to be thankful you’re still around.’
Vicky Sweart used both frozen berries like strawberries and ginger root in her diet which she claims has helped recovery from breast cancer
However, experts urged other cancer sufferers not to abandon conventional treatments.
Sara Hiom, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘It’s not recommended that alternative therapies are used in place of conventional medical therapy.
‘There is little scientific or medical evidence to indicate that alternative therapies are more effective than the proven treatments used by cancer specialists on the NHS.
‘We would urge anyone to talk to their specialist if they’re contemplating them.’
Dr Steve Kelly, who specialises in breast cancer at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, said: ‘Breast cancer deaths have been going down steadily for over 20 years thanks to surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
‘But there are three things patients can do to help themselves. It doesn’t guarantee survival, but it does help.
‘The first is to exercise for 30 minutes, three days a week. The second is to not gain any weight, and the third is to reduce fat intake.
‘These things help to reduce the chance of cancer coming back. For this patient, four years on now, it is still early days.’
He added: ‘My job is not to make people have Tamoxifen, but advise people of the risks and benefits.
‘Treatment comes down to a patient, and height, weight and exercise levels are helpful in making a decision.’
Tamoxifen is Britain’s most widely-used breast cancer drug, given to more than half of patients to stop tumours from returning after surgery.
The tablets, which cost as little as aspirin and are taken for up to five years, also prevent the development of new tumours in an unaffected breast.
The drug, originally developed as a contraceptive, is the gold standard treatment for breast cancer and has been given to millions around the world since the 1980s.
It works by blocking the female sex hormone oestrogen from fuelling the growth of tumours.
Used after surgery, it cuts the odds of the tumour returning by around 30 per cent. However, it does not work in all cases.
In contrast, the evidence for curry spices such as turmeric beating cancer mainly comes from the study of cells in a dish – while evidence from the treatment of actual patients is sparse.
In laboratory studies it seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing, particularly in breast, bowel, stomach and skin cancers.
It has also been shown to appear to stop the spread of breast cancer cells to other parts of the body in mice
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