Red meat has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer, but there may be another reason to keep steaks and hamburgers off your plate. A new study suggests that women who eat large amounts of red meat may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Researchers at Harvard University analyzed information from over 88,000 women ages 26 to 45 who filled out surveys about their eating habits in 1991. The women’s consumption of red meat varied from never to more than six servings per day. The preliminary findings of the study, which were released in 2006, showed a link between red meat consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer after 12 years. Now, with longer follow-up information, the research group is providing even more information about this connection.
Using a statistical model, the researchers estimated that the women who ate the most red meat showed an increase of 6.8 cases of breast cancer for every 1,000 women over the course of 20 years. The results do not exclude the possibility that other factors could be responsible for the increased occurrence of breast cancer. However, scientists do suspect that proteins in red meat can accelerate tumor growth and cell division. Some chemicals in processed meats, such as nitrates, are also considered to be probable carcinogens.
Although the study results are not conclusive enough to warrant a change in the prevention guidelines for breast cancer, they do underscore the importance of staying healthy and maintaining a well-balanced diet. Sally Greenbrook, a senior policy officer at the U.K. charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, says that women can limit their risk of breast cancer by exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol intake.
Mia Gaudet, director of genetic epidemiology at the American Cancer Society, says that women should be conscientious of their eating habits, especially in their early 20s, when breasts are still developing and more susceptible to carcinogens. She adds, "It's important to have a healthy lifestyle throughout your life and not just as you get older and more worried about cancer. People should perhaps consider ordering a salad or a vegetarian option sometime” (Source: AP).
For more information about breast cancer prevention and risk factors, visit www.cancer.gov.