Study finds a possible link between Meat Consumption and Risk of Breast Cancer

Red meat linked to breast cancer increase
5 August 2019

A study published today in the International Journal of Cancer has examined the link between meat consumption and cooking practices. The study found that red meat consumption increases the risk of breast cancer. Dr Giota Mitrou, Director of Research at World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF) comments on the study, cancer and nutrition more broadly.

Red and processed meat have been found to be a cancer risk factor1 and, increasingly, public health authorities are providing advice to the general public on the consumption of red meat and processed meat. The study on the “Association between meat consumption and risk of breast cancer: findings from the Sister study” authored by Lo, Park et al., published today in the UICC journal, the International Journal of Cancer (IJC), found that consuming red meat carries a significantly higher risk of breast cancer than white meat (poultry).

The authors studied different types of meat, meat mutagens and the incidence of breast cancer. The information was obtained from a cohort of more than 42,000 women aged between 35 to 74-years old, without a previous diagnosis of breast cancer and are sisters or half-sisters of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

They monitored cooking methods, the doneness of meat and type of meat such as red meat or poultry with a multi-choice questionnaire. In parallel, they collected self-reported information about breast cancer diagnosis from annual follow-ups. They then performed a thorough statistical analysis using several parameters such as Body Mass Index (BMI), ethnicity, physical activity, waist-to-hip ratio, consumption of vegetables, per cent of calories from fat, dairy consumption, alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, and oestrogen receptor status, which led to the findings published.

In summary, red meat consumption was found to increase the risk of invasive breast cancer while poultry was found to reduce the risk. The authors note that the reasons for the reduced risk of poultry consumption on breast cancer need to be further investigated. 

“The role of poultry as possibly protective against breast cancer is very interesting and needs further investigation including the mechanisms involved. I look forward to seeing more research on this topic.” Commented Dr Giota Mitrou, Director of Research at WCRF.

This study builds on a growing body of evidence on red meat and cancer, much of which has focused on colorectal cancer, including a previous study2 published in the IJC, which found that red meat consumption was linked to colorectal cancer. Other reports, such as the Continuous Update Project from WCRF/American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) has found that there is strong evidence that red meat and processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer3. Therefore, one of WCRF/AICR’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations is to limit the consumption of red meat to three portions a week and eat no processed meat4.

"This study suggests that red meat may increase the risk of breast cancer, and that eating poultry may lower the risk of breast cancer which is very interesting. Not many studies have researched the link between meat and poultry consumption in relation to breast cancer, also taking into account cooking methods and especially how burnt or cooked the meat is. This new study will add to the evidence on red meat and cancer – as previous research, including our own, has found strong evidence that red meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer, but to date, there has not been enough evidence on red meat and breast cancer.” Said Dr Giota Mitrou, Director of Research at WCRF.

UICC and WCRF continue to promote research and policy on nutrition and cancer and highlight where governments need to take action to promote healthy diets.

Last update: 
Friday 16 August 2019
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