By Margarita Nahapetyan
The new large study, conducted by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, has found that consuming red or white meat does not put postmenopausal women at an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
There is a number of previous studies which have revealed that eating processed red meat or meat cooked at high temperatures puts women at an increased risk of breast cancer. The explanation was because high temperatures, caused by grilling, barbecuing or pan-frying, produce high amounts of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in meat. HCAs and PAHs are chemicals that are capable of causing mutations in DNA that can, in turn, result in the appearance of breast tumors.
However, a relationship between meat consumption and breast cancer in females has not been established. According to Dr. Geoffrey C. Kabat, PhD, MS, senior epidemiologist in the department of epidemiology and population health at Einstein, and a main author of the new study, earlier epidemiologic research in human beings that examined the amount of meat in the diet and estimated intakes of HCAs and PAHs in association to the risk of breast cancer, have demonstrated inconsistent results.
To come up with the conclusion that breast cancer is not associated with the consumption of meat, Dr. Kabat and a team of his colleagues examined data on more than 120,000 postmenopausal women who took part in the NIH-AARP Diet and health Study, a collaboration between the National Institutes of Health and American Association of Retired Persons. All the women were enrolled in the study between 1995 and 1996. At that time, they were asked by the scientists to provide detailed information on their diet habits and also to report how often they consumed certain foods. In addition, all the women were asked to provide information on the methods they had been using to cook meat.
The investigators revealed that over the following 8 years, nearly 3 per cent, or 3,818 of the study participants, developed breast cancer. There was no evidence found that the amount of meat in the diet, methods of meat preparation used, or meat-mutagen consumption was linked to an increased risk for the disease. Among the reported meat intake was steak, hamburger, chicken, pork, processed meat and meat cooked at high temperatures.
The experts also found that diets that included processed meat or meat cooked at high temperatures, through grilling and oven-broiling, did not increase the risk of developing breast cancer in subgroups that included women with excessive weight, those who did not have kids, who were alcohol drinkers, those with smoking habits, who were prescribed menopausal hormone treatment, who had low levels of physical activity, or whose diet included very little intake of fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Kabat noted that neither this latest study, nor previous research looked at the diets of women with a younger age. "So we have not excluded the possibility that eating meat and exposure to meat mutagens at a younger age, particularly during adolescence when the breasts are developing, may increase one's risk of breast cancer," he said.
The study, titled "Meat intake and meat preparation in relation to risk of postmenopausal breast cancer in the NIH-AARP diet and health study," has been published in the latest issue of the International Journal of Cancer.