Meat, Sweets Boost Breast Cancer Risk
Among Older, Overweight Women, Excess Meats, Sweets Boost Breast Cancer Risk 60% or More
WebMD News Archive
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"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
The meat-sweet pattern may have increased the risk of breast cancer by
increasing obesity, she says.
Other Experts Weigh In
Looking at dietary patterns, not just individual foods, is an area of
emerging research for diet and breast cancer links, says Anna Wu, PhD,
professor of preventive medicine in the division of epidemiology at the Keck
School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.
"Studies of dietary patterns and breast cancer started around 2000,"
she tells WebMD. "Prior to that, researchers tended to focus on individual
foods or food groups or macro and micronutrients."
The research is complicated, however, by the fact that different researchers
define a Western diet in different ways, she says.
"Using dietary patterns is a reasonable way to investigate links between
diet and breast cancer," says another expert, Teresa Fung, ScD, RD,
associate professor in the department of nutrition at Simmons College in
Boston. Fung researches the nutritional roots of chronic diseases.
"The link between various diet components (for example, nutrients and
foods) and breast cancer is quite inconsistent except for alcohol [and being
overweight]," she says. "However, the meat-sweet pattern is similar to
the Western pattern that is seen in other studies. And that Western pattern has
been associated with colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease."
Take-Home Points, for Now
More research is needed on the diet-breast cancer link, experts agree. But
for now, says Fung, "it would be prudent at the minimum to stay away from a
diet heavy in meat, processed grains, sweets, and desserts." Instead, she
suggest, adopt a diet abundant in minimally processed plant foods (not
necessarily a vegetarian diet), which have been associated with many health
"I think definitely women in Asia should be cautious about embracing a
Western style diet," Tseng says. "In this country, I think women should
be careful about foods that fall into that pattern. For all women, weight
control is probably in order."