Oct 19, 1999 (Baltimore) -- Eating beef, pork, or lamb as a main dish daily or consuming at least two servings of cake each week may put people at increased risk for a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, according to a paper in the Oct. 20 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph node tissue. Lymph nodes are scattered throughout the body and are part of the immune system. Thus, they help rid the body of foreign substances, such as infections.
"Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is getting a lot of attention lately because both the incidence and the mortality are increasing dramatically," Shumin Zhang, MD, ScD, tells WebMD. "Our study shows that for five out of six sources of fat we asked about in the diet a positive association with the risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was seen." Zhang is a researcher associate at the Harvard School of Public Health and the lead author of the study.
The trial used data from the Nurses' Health Study, which began in 1976. A total of 121,700 nurses were asked to participate. Questionnaires were mailed to their homes on a regular basis to assess health-related behaviors and medical history. When researchers looked at the consumption of certain foods in the diet for 88,410 of the participants, an association with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was seen.
"Foods associated with the disease included beef, pork, or lamb as a main dish; homemade pie; and cake," says Zhang. "These foods are sources of trans fatty acids, which may account for the increased risk."
Trans fatty acids are simply a type of fat with a specific chemical structure. Such fats may be found naturally in certain animal products, or they may be manufactured from vegetable fats.
"One of the most intriguing things about this study is the association of diet with a cancer of the immune system," says Regina Zeigler, MPH, PhD. Zeigler, who is a senior investigator at the National Cancer Institute, commented on the study for WebMD. "What it seems to suggest is that the type of diet we associate with affluent societies, where consumption of meats and fats is quite high, is predictive of risk."
Zhang says, "We don't know the biological relationship between diet and the immune system, but we do know that dietary consumption of trans fatty acids is not good for the cardiovascular system or for colon cancer or for a number of other diseases. Adopting a diet lower in trans fatty acids would be helpful for most people, and it's not that hard to do."