by Jenna Koroly, MS, RD, CSOWM, CDN
In ecological studies, intake of red meat has been found to be associated with increased risk of breast cancer, although the findings have not been consistent in several cohort studies [Lacey et al., 2002; Anderson et al., 2018; Farvid et al., 2018; Wu et al., 2016 as cited in current study]. With breast cancer being the most prevalent in women in both the United States and internationally [Ferlay et al, 2012 as cited in current study], better understanding of the relationship between lifestyle factors and breast cancer can guide specific dietary recommendations supportive of decreased risk.
Association between meat consumption and risk of breast cancer: Findings from the Sister Study
Journal: International Journal of Cancer
This prospective cohort study included just over 42,000 participants (ages 35-74) from the Sister Study, which looks at environmental and genetic factors related to breast cancer risk. Participants had no previous diagnosis of breast cancer and are either sisters or half-sisters of women diagnosed with breast cancer. They completed a Food Frequency Questionnaire at baseline from the years 2003-2009. Meat type, meat mutagens, and invasive breast cancer risk were looked at during follow-up of an average of 7.6 years.
The authors found:
1. Increased consumption of red meat was associated with increased risk of invasive breast cancer, particularly in post-menopausal individuals
2. Increased consumption of poultry was associated with decreased risk of invasive breast cancer, particularly in post-menopausal individuals
3. Substituting poultry for red meat was associated with decreased risk of invasive breast cancer
4. No association between cooking type, heterocyclic amines, or heme iron from red meat intake and risk of invasive breast cancer
For the Patient and Caregiver
Take a look at your typical week and write out a list of four separate columns: vegetarian, fish/eggs/yogurt, poultry, and red meat. Note where you tend to get most of your protein from. When ready to make nutritional behavior changes as you menu plan, aim for the vegetarian column to be the longest, followed by fish/eggs/yogurt, poultry, and red meat. If you tend to eat red meat frequently (more than 1-2x per week), begin to substitute for fish and poultry, and choose one day per week to have all vegetarian meals. This method will put protein intake into perspective and will allow you to begin making changes to reduce red meat intake.
For the Healthcare Team
When working with patients, including post-menopausal women with family history of breast cancer, discuss substitution options including vegetarian protein, fish, and poultry. Depending on the patient’s readiness to change and past cooking and eating experience, using poultry may be an appropriate first step followed by more vegetarian-based meals with “meaty” textures such as mushrooms and eggplant.
[i] Lo JJ, Park YM, Sinha R, Sandler DP. (2019). Association between meat consumption and risk of breast cancer: Findings from the Sister Study. Int J Cancer. doi: 10.1002/ijc.32547.