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Fruits, Veggies May Not Cut Breast Cancer Risk

Women Should Still Eat Plenty of Produce, Say Researchers
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WebMD Health News

Jan. 11, 2005 - There are plenty of reasons to keep eating your fruits and veggies, but don't expect them to single-handedly slash your breast cancer risk. So say researchers in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The news appears in the journal's Jan. 12 edition. It's based on one of the biggest studies ever on diet and breast cancer -- the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).

Still, there's no reason to quit eating salads or to ditch broccoli. Countless studies have found that produce can help beat heart disease, which kills more women (and men) than cancer, and other conditions. Besides, eating fruits and veggies didn't hurt anyone in the study.

Dietary Details

Almost 520,000 women from all over Europe participated in the study. More than half -- about 285,000 women aged 25-70 -- were included in the fruit and vegetable study. They lived in eight different countries: France, Italy, Spain, the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark.

Between 1992 and 1998, the women completed questionnaires about their fruit and vegetable consumption. They detailed which items they ate and how often. Researchers followed them until 2002, watching for breast cancer.

More than 3,600 cases of breast cancer were detected during the study. Although the follow-up period was relatively short, the results suggest that neither total nor specific vegetable and fruit intake protects women from breast cancer, say the researchers, who included Carla van Gils, PhD, of University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands.

Specific types of produce didn't matter. The results also held after considering factors like age, alcohol, tobacco, physical activity, and oral contraceptives.

Data on family history of breast cancer weren't available to the researchers. So the results do not exclude the possibility that protective effects may exist in subgroups of women.

Keep Eating Produce

"There's abundant evidence that the advice to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables is still very good," says Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, MPH, of Harvard School of Public Health, in a statement. "Continue to eat fruits and vegetables, but don't count on that as having a big impact on cancer risks," he says, echoing his comments in a JAMA editorial.

The European researchers aren't sure how to explain their findings. They say some women may have misreported what they ate or changed their diets because of early symptoms.

It's still possible that specific nutrients found in produce could have protective effects, the researchers say. But for now, everyone should continue to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as they have been found to help protect against numerous other conditions, including heart disease, obesity, and other cancers.

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