Diet and cancer: Young women at risk

A clear and concise understanding of the relationship between the foods we eat (or don't eat) and the risk of cancer is still a work in progress. But there is no doubt we are learning. From time to time I see something new in the scientific literature that I feel compelled to share. Today it is an article from the October 2014 issue of the International Journal of Cancer. (I've copied the abstract and link below.) Very often with cancer the old adage that "you are what you eat" should also be "you will be tomorrow what you eat today." The article below points that out clearly. Presented by researchers from The Harvard School of Public Health and others it points to a link between the risk of breast cancer later in life ( before menopause) and the consumption of red meat during adolescence. The detail of where the data comes from in the opening paragraph is interesting, but it is the conclusions in the last paragraph that grabbed my attention. Protein choices are always important, but for our young girls it seems especially so.


Adolescent meat intake and breast cancer risk:

The breast is particularly vulnerable to carcinogenic influences during adolescence due to rapid proliferation of mammary cells and lack of terminal differentiation. We investigated consumption of adolescent red meat and other protein sources in relation to breast cancer risk in the Nurses' Health Study II cohort. We followed prospectively 44,231 women aged 33–52 years who, in 1998, completed a detailed questionnaire about diet during adolescence. Relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (95%CI) were estimated using Cox proportional hazard regression. We documented 1132 breast cancer cases during 13-year follow-up. In multivariable Cox regression models with major breast cancer risk factors adjustment, greater consumption of total red meat in adolescence was significantly associated with higher premenopausal breast cancer risk (highest vs. lowest quintiles, RR, 1.43; 95%CI, 1.05–1.94; Ptrend = 0.007), but not postmenopausal breast cancer. Adolescent intake of poultry was associated with lower risk of breast cancer overall (RR, 0.76; 95%CI, 0.60–0.97; for each serving/day). Adolescent intakes of iron, heme iron, fish, eggs, legumes and nuts were not associated with breast cancer.

Replacement of one serving/day of total red meat with one serving of combination of poultry, fish, legumes, and nuts was associated with a 15% lower risk of breast cancer overall (RR, 0.85; 95%CI, 0.74–0.96) and a 23% lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer (RR, 0.77; 95%CI, 0.64–0.92).

In conclusion, higher consumption of red meat during adolescence was associated with premenopausal breast cancer. Substituting other dietary protein sources for red meat in adolescent diet may decrease premenopausal breast cancer risk.

International Journal of Cancer
Maryam S. Farvid, Eunyoung Cho, Wendy Y. Chen, A.Heather Eliassen and Walter C. Willett
Article first published online : 3 OCT 2014, DOI: 10.1002/ijc.29218

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