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The Science Nook on Meat Consumption and Breast Cancer Risk

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.


Study

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.

Findings

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.


Reference:

[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.

Jenna Koroly, MS, RD, CDN

Jenna is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s of Science in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has been a part of the Savor Health team since October 2016, and gained further clinical knowledge in oncology while performing nutrition assessments at Northern Westchester Hospital and Amsterdam Nursing Home as a dietetic intern. Jenna provides nutrition counseling for weight management, cardiovascular health, and vegetarian/vegan individuals at an outpatient nutrition practice in Manhattan, and is passionate about nutrition therapy and exercise for oncology patients.

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