April 17, 2007 / 1:43 PM / 12 years ago

Red and processed meat linked to breast cancer

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Women who eat a lot of meat, particularly red or processed meats, may be more likely to develop breast cancer, according to a large study of British women.

Researchers found that among 35,372 women, between the ages of 35 and 69 years old, who were followed for 8 years, those who ate the largest amount of meat were more likely than non-meat eaters to develop breast cancer before or after menopause.

The link was stronger among postmenopausal women, with red and processed meat seeming to particularly raise their risk of breast cancer. Women who ate the most red meat (2 or more ounces per day) were 56 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than the women who ate no red meat.

Meanwhile, those who ate the most processed meat (more than three quarters of an ounce per day) showed a 64-percent increase in their risk of the disease.

The association between meat in the diet and breast cancer was weaker among premenopausal women, but those with the highest total meat intake were still 20 percent more likely to develop the disease than non-meat eaters.

Professor Janet E. Cade and her colleagues at the University of Leeds report the findings in the British Journal of Cancer.

Many studies have investigated the relationship between diet and breast cancer. Some, but not all, have found that meat and saturated fat may raise women’s risk of the disease. One of the strengths of the current study was the detailed dietary information it collected, according to the authors.

Meat intake remained linked to breast cancer risk even after the researchers factored in the women’s overall diet content and quantity, age, weight, exercise habits and smoking.

There are a number of reasons that heavy meat consumption could theoretically contribute to breast cancer, according to experts. One possibility is saturated fat, which research suggests may promote the growth of tumor cells. Another explanation may be certain compounds produced when meat is grilled — heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons - that have been shown to promote tumors in animals, and possibly in humans.

While studies have come to conflicting conclusions over the connection between meat and breast cancer, the current findings suggest that it’s best for women to have their burgers in moderation, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

“This new study offers further confirmation of AICR’s standing recommendation to limit intake of red meat to less than 3 ounces per day,” Dr. Ritva Butrum, a science advisor to the group, said in a statement.

“If these results are confirmed by other investigations in the future,” Butrum added, “post-menopausal women may wish to limit their intake of meat, especially processed meat, even further.”

SOURCE: British Journal of Cancer, April 2007.

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