New research shows that eating blueberries may have the potential to make a significant difference in the growth and spread of a difficult-to-treat type of breast cancer that affects thousands of people each year.

The research, conducted by City of Hope researchers Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., and Lynn Adams, Ph.D., and published in The Journal of Nutrition, focused on an aggressive type of cancer known as Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

In preliminary studies, the laboratory demonstrated that blueberry extract exhibited anti-tumor activity against triple negative breast cancer cells in vitro. The researchers have now completed further studies demonstrating that whole blueberry powder in the diet of lab mice also successfully slowed the growth and spread of triple negative breast cancer cells. The researchers noted that blueberries are rich in bioactive substances such as flavonoids and proanthocyanidins and possess “potent antioxidant potential,” which may be beneficial to the prevention of cancer.

Using TNBC cultures, Chen and Adams discovered a decrease in proliferation and mobility in TNBC cells and a rate of cell death (apoptosis) of TNBC cells at over twice the rate of untreated cells.

When the blueberry diet was tested in lab animals, the results were similar: TNBC tumor volume was 75 percent lower in the mice fed the 5 percent blueberry diet than in the control group; TNBC cell proliferation was significantly lower; and the rate of TNBC cell death was higher.

Next, Chen and Adams hope to move into clinical trials to study the effect blueberries have on TNBC in humans.

Triple negative breast cancers are so-named because the cancerous cells lack three types of proteins common to other types of breast cancer. TNBC cells are difficult to treat, aggressive and have a high risk of metastasis—spreading from one part of the body to another.

Approximately 10 to 20 percent of the 190,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed annually in the U.S. are triple negative.

Health magazine, in January 2010, placed wild blueberries second on its list of “America’s Healthiest Superfoods for Women.” The editors noted the many potential health benefits of Wild Blueberries, including preventing memory loss, improving motor skills, lowering blood pressure, and fighting wrinkles.

“If berries are nutritional treasures,” wrote the editors, “Wild Blueberries are the crown jewels … truly one of nature’s ultimate anti-aging foods,” Health editors recommended that readers mix wild blueberries with their daily berries servings “as much as possible” for their many health benefits.

Researchers have long known that wild blueberries are among the leaders in healthy foods high in antioxidants capacity. Wild blueberries also rank higher than other fruits, including cultivated blueberries in total phenolics, in anthocyanins and in flavonoids.

Wild blueberries are smaller than cultivated blueberries, with an intense, sweet flavor that children and adults enjoy.

Because wild blueberries are frozen fresh after harvest to retain all of their taste and nutritional properties and available year-round in the freezer section of grocery stores, they are a convenient part of many healthy meals.

Wild blueberries are versatile and can be used in any meal. They can be eaten alone or used in easy recipes for snacks, breakfast, sides and entrees that everyone in the family will enjoy.