Consuming red meat can increase chances of breast cancer, a study published in the International Journal of Cancer this week revealed. A US and Puerto Rico-based nationwide prospective cohort study evaluated the environmental and genetic risk factors for breast cancer.

Participants with higher red meat consumption had worse health behaviours overall and stronger family history of breast cancer compared to those with lower red meat consumption, the study said. In terms of poultry consumption, participants with higher poultry consumption had more years of education and had stronger family history compared to those with lower poultry consumption.

“Red meat consumption increased the risk of invasive breast cancer, whereas poultry consumption was associated with reduced risk, particularly for postmenopausal invasive breast cancer. These associations were more pronounced in substitution models, indicating that substituting poultry for red meat decreases breast cancer risk when the total consumption of red meat and poultry is fixed and substituting red meat for poultry increases breast cancer risk when total consumption of red meat and poultry is fixed," the study said.

The enrolment period was between 2003 and 2009 and participants were 35-74 year old women who had no previous diagnosis of breast cancer and were sisters or half-sisters of women diagnosed with breast cancer. It was jointly done by Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, New York, National University of Singapore, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Cancer Institute, Bethesda.

A total of 50,884 women completed the extensive baseline enrolment process, which consisted of a comprehensive interview and self-completed questionnaire covering medical and family cancer history as well as lifestyle and demographic characteristics, including diet and a home exam during which height, weight and hip circumference were measured.

“An association between red meat and breast cancer may be due to dietary heme iron, fat and N-glycolylneuraminic acid as these compounds found in red meat are indicated to possibly increase tumor formation," the study said.

According to the Union health ministry, breast cancer ranks as the number one cancer among Indian females.

“Breast cancer is the leading cancer among women, not only in India but worldwide. While this observational study doesn't prove that red meat causes breast cancer or that chicken prevents it, the authors suggest the switch may be worth considering," said Ravi Mehrotra, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Indian Cancer Research Consortium –Indian Journal of Medical Research (ICMR).

“Random clinical trials with a very long follow-up to study the relationship between diet and breast cancer are warranted. Other factors that increase the risk of breast cancer are genetics, obesity, tobacco, alcohol consumption, less number of children and absence of breast feeding," he said.

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