TUESDAY, June 10, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Women who ate the
most red meat increased their risk for breast cancer by nearly 25
percent, a 20-year study of nearly 89,000 women suggests.
On the flip side, however, replacing a daily serving of red meat
with a combination of fish, legumes, nuts and poultry appeared to
lower the risk of breast cancer by 14 percent, the researchers
"Cutting down processed meat, limiting intake of red meat, and substituting a combination of poultry, fish, legumes and nuts as protein sources for red meat during early life seems beneficial for the prevention of breast cancer," said lead researcher Maryam Farvid, who's with the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition.
Compared with women who had one serving of red meat a week,
those who ate 1.5 servings a day appeared to have a 22 percent
higher risk of breast cancer. And each additional daily serving of
red meat seemed to increase the risk of breast cancer another 13
percent, Farvid said.
Eating more poultry, however, lowered the risk, the researchers
noted. Substituting one serving a day of poultry for one serving a
day of red meat reduced the risk of breast cancer by 17 percent
overall and by 24 percent among postmenopausal women, the
"Decreasing consumption of red meat and replacing it with other healthy dietary sources of protein, such as chicken, turkey, fish, beans, lentils, peas and nuts, may have important public health implications," she said.
"Reduction of red meat intake in the diet not only decreases the risk of breast cancer but also decreases the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other kind of cancers, as well," Farvid said.
Because this is a so-called observational study, it doesn't
prove that more red meat increases breast cancer risk. And the
biological reasons behind the apparent red meat-breast cancer
connection isn't clear, she said.
Red meat has been thought to increase the risk of breast cancer
in different ways, Farvid said. Cancer-causing "byproducts created
during high temperature cooking of red meat" may be to blame, she
said. Another possibility: hormones used to increase growth of beef
cattle. Also, she noted, "food preservatives such as nitrate and
nitrite in processed meat can also be associated with elevated risk
of breast cancer."
The report was published June 10 online in the
For the study, Farvid and her colleagues collected data on
almost 89,000 women, aged 26 to 45, who took part in the Nurses'
Health Study II. The women completed a questionnaire on diet in
1991, 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007, according to the study.
Participants were asked about daily consumption of unprocessed
red meat, such as beef, pork, lamb and hamburger, and processed red
meat, such as hot dogs, bacon and sausage.
They were also asked how much poultry (including chicken and
turkey); fish (including tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines) and
legumes (including beans, lentils, peas and nuts) -- they ate each
day. The responses were ranked from "never or less than once per
month" to "six or more per day."
Over 20 years of follow-up 2,830 women developed breast cancer,
according to the study.
To try to determine red meat's role in the risk for breast
cancer, Farvid's group also factored in differences in height,
weight, race, family history of breast cancer, history of benign
breast disease, smoking, menopausal status, hormone and oral
contraceptive use. They also took into account the participants'
diets when they were teens.
"This paper very usefully translates findings about the associations between meat intake and breast cancer risk into specific, actionable, risk-reducing strategies," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.
"In general, replacing one daily serving of meat with legumes, fish or poultry has the potential to reduce breast cancer risk by a relative 15 to 20 percent. That is clearly enough to matter," said Katz.
But not everyone agreed that the study's findings were
Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill
Hospital in New York City, said the study wasn't "definitive."
"The women who ate less red meat may have a healthier lifestyle, and that reduces their risk of cancer. The increased risk tied to red meat might only stand in for other unhealthy behaviors," she said. "A healthy lifestyle can lower your risk of cancer in general."
However, Bernik noted that eating a lot of red meat has been
linked to an increased risk of other cancers, such as colon and
For more information on breast cancer, visit the
American Cancer Society.
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