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Leukemia & Lymphoma

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Diet Linked to Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Lots of Meat, Saturated Fat, Dairy May Raise Risk
WebMD Health News

March 9, 2004 -- What's causing America's huge surge in blood cancer? It might be our diet.

It's called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It's a killer collection of different white-blood-cell cancers. And it's a mystery why it's been increasing so quickly in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Now there's a clue. It comes from a study of 601 Connecticut women with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Tongzhang Zheng, ScD, head of the division of environmental health sciences at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., collected detailed dietary information from these women and from 717 similar women without cancer.

"What we found is if a person has a higher intake of animal protein, they will have a higher risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma," Zheng tells Web. "And people who have a higher intake of saturated fat have an increased risk. On the other hand, if you have higher-than-average intake of dietary fiber -- particularly if you frequently eat vegetables and fruits with a high fiber content -- you have a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma."

The findings appear in the March 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Earlier studies hinted at the same thing. Now, Zheng says, it seems clear that a major factor in the mysterious rise of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a diet high in meat, saturated fats, dairy products, and eggs and low in fiber, fruits, and vegetables.

Unbalanced Diet, Unhealthy Body

In the U.S., three kinds of cancer have skyrocketed in recent decades. One is lung cancer, mainly caused by smoking. Another is skin cancer, caused by too much sun. The third is non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. But nobody knows why it's on the rise, says Nancy Mueller [pronounced MULL-er], ScD, associate director of population sciences at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Center.

"Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a basket of related diseases," Mueller tells WebMD. "It probably has a set of causal factors that may be related to one another, but not in a simple way. We can't really explain it -- this is a really hard nut to crack. But what is happening to the American is associated with a number of malignancies such as breast, kidney, and colon cancer. Higher body weight is a common theme."

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