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Breast Cancer Health Center

Meat, Sweets Boost Breast Cancer Risk

Among Older, Overweight Women, Excess Meats, Sweets Boost Breast Cancer Risk 60% or More
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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 cancer.

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 benefits."

"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."

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