Background The effects of diet in cancer, in general, and breast cancer in particular, are not well understood. Insulin inhibition in ketogenic, high fat diets, modulate downstream signaling molecules and are postulated to have therapeutic benefits. Obesity and diabetes have been associated with higher incidence of breast cancer. Addition of anti-cancer drugs together with diet is also not well studied. Methods Two diets, one ketogenic, the other standard mouse chow, were tested in a spontaneous breast cancer model in 34 mice. Subgroups of 3–9 mice were assigned, in which the diet were implemented either with or without added rapamycin, an mTOR inhibitor and potential anti-cancer drug. Results Blood glucose and insulin concentrations in mice ingesting the ketogenic diet (KD) were significantly lower, whereas beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB) levels were significantly higher, respectively, than in mice on the standard diet (SD). Growth of primary breast tumors and lung metastases were inhibited, and lifespans were longer in the KD mice compared to mice on the SD (p<0.005). Rapamycin improved survival in both mouse diet groups, but when combined with the KD was more effective than when combined with the SD. Conclusions The study provides proof of principle that a ketogenic diet a) results in serum insulin reduction and ketosis in a spontaneous breast cancer mouse model; b) can serve as a therapeutic anti-cancer agent; and c) can enhance the effects of rapamycin, an anti-cancer drug, permitting dose reduction for comparable effect. Further, the ketogenic diet in this model produces superior cancer control than standard mouse chow whether with or without added rapamycin.
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