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Meat, Sweets Boost Breast Cancer Risk

Among Older, Overweight Women, Excess Meats, Sweets Boost Breast Cancer Risk 60% or More
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Western Diet Breast Cancer

July 10, 2007 -- A diet rich in meats and sweets can boost the risk of breast cancer in older women by 60% or more compared with a diet rich in vegetables, soy, and fresh fish, a new study of Asian women shows.

While there is no breast cancer diet, per se, the researchers did find that certain dietary patterns can boost the risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer rates are typically low among Asian women, but as their breast cancer rates have climbed steadily in recent years, experts have begun to focus on the effect that adopting Western eating habits has on Asians. "There is a hypothesis that a Western diet increases the risk of breast cancer," Marilyn Tseng, PhD, a study co-author, tells WebMD.

So her team carefully evaluated the diets of 1,459 breast cancer patients and 1,556 healthy women in Shanghai to see if they could find a link between diet and breast cancer risk. "It's the first time a Western diet pattern has been linked with breast cancer in Asian women," says Tseng, an associate professor in the population science division at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. The effect held true only for the older women.

Study Details

Tseng and her colleague interviewed Shanghai breast cancer patients and Shanghai residents in depth about their eating habits over the past five years. Women with breast cancer had been diagnosed from August 1996 through March 1998. The women in the comparison group were selected from the Shanghai Resident Registry of permanent residents of urban Shanghai. The average age was 47 in each group.

The researchers uncovered two general dietary patterns. The “meat-sweet” diet included various meats, mainly pork but also poultry, organ meats, beef, lamb, saltwater fish, and shrimp along with candy, desserts, breads, and milk. The "vegetable-soy" diet was filled with various vegetables, soy-based products, and freshwater fish.

"What we found was the meat-sweet diet actually did increase the risk for breast cancer," Tseng tells WebMD. The vegetable-soy diet wasn't found to protect against breast cancer.

"We did not see a significant effect [of dietary patterns] on premenopausal women, we saw it only in postmenopausal women," says Tseng. The study is in the July issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

"A meat-sweet diet raised the risk [of breast cancer] by 60% in postmenopausal women," Tseng says. Among women who were postmenopausal and overweight, with a body mass index of 25 and greater, Tseng's team found a more than twofold increased risk of getting a specific type of breast cancer, called estrogen-receptor positive, if they ate the highest amounts of a meat-sweet diet compared with the vegetable-soy one. Estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer is typically less aggressive than estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer.

The meat-sweet pattern may have increased the risk of breast cancer by increasing obesity, she says.

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