Carving Out Connections Between Meats and Breast Cancer Risk

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Carving Out Connections Between Meats and Breast Cancer Risk

LOOKING TO LESSEN your breast cancer risk? Hold off on the bacon and burgers. That-'s the word from two recent studies linking heavy consumption of processed and grilled red meats with increased risk for breast cancer, particularly among postmenopausal women.

In the UK Women's Cohort Study, researchers at the University of Leeds in England used food frequency questionnaires to record the eating habits of 35,372 women, ages 3569. Over eight years of follow-up, 395 postmenopausal women in the study were diagnosed with breast cancer, along with 283 cases in pre-menopausal women.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, reported that postmenopausal women who consumed the most red meat had a 56% increased risk of breast cancer. Those consuming the most processed meats had a 64% greater risk than those who consumed none. The researchers posited that there could be a combination of nutritionally related factors in play--particularly saturated fat, which may affect estrogen, already linked with breast cancer risk.

In the second new study, researchers at the University of South Carolina found that barbecued and smoked red meats upped breast cancer risk--again, especially among postmenopausal women. Lead researcher Susan Steck, PhD, MPH, RD, and colleagues analyzed data from 1,508 women with breast cancer, along with 1,556 healthy controls. Using interviewer-administered questionnaires, the researchers estimated the subjects' lifetime intakes of grilled and smoked meats.

While the researchers found no effect among pre-menopausal subjects, postmenopausal women who'd consumed the highest amounts of smoked or barbecued meats had a 47% increased breast cancer risk compared to those consuming the least. The findings were published in the journal Epidemiology.

The researchers suggested the increased risk might be due to the formation of carcinogenic compounds in or on the surface of well-done meats cooked at high temperature.

"These results support the accumulating evidence that consumption of meats cooked by methods that promote carcinogen formation may increase risk of postmenopausal breast cancer," wrote Steck.
A subset of women within the increased risk group who also consumed low amounts of fruits and vegetables had an even higher relative risk--74%--perhaps suggesting it might be wise to forgo the burgers at your next picnic and take another helping of watermelon or salad.

TO LEARN MORE: British Journal of Cancer, April 10, 2007; abstract at ; Epidemiology, May 2007; abstract at .

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