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New Findings Relate Poultry Consumption to Breast Cancer Risk

EATING poultry may be associated with reduced breast cancer risk whereas red meat consumption may increase the likelihood of the disease, according to a new study. The findings suggest that a dietary change could reduce rates of breast cancer by making the switch from beef to chicken. The study also investigated the link between how well the meat was cooked and the associated risk of breast cancer.

The research used data from the Sister Study spanning an average of 7.6 years. Eligibility criteria required the 42,012 female participants to have been between the ages of 34-74, living in the USA (including Puerto Rico), having had a sister diagnosed with primary breast cancer, and never having been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer themselves. The participants were required to complete a Block 1998 Food Frequency Questionnaire which provided a comprehensive account of the type of meat intake, portion sizes, and preparation with regards to a full spectrum of ‘doneness’ they habitually consumed.

The team showed that the cohort that ate the most amount of red meat had a 23% higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who ate the least. Poultry, surprisingly, appeared to have a protective effect and those who ate the most poultry had a 15% lower risk of developing breast cancer than people who ate the least poultry. Using substitution models the scientists were able to predict that there were improvements associated with breast cancer risk if an individual were to substitute high consumption of red meat with poultry. There was no association between the method used to cook the chicken and the risk of breast cancer.

“While the mechanism through which poultry consumption decreases breast cancer risk is not clear, our study does provide evidence that substituting poultry for red meat may be a simple change that can help reduce the incidence of breast cancer,” said Dr Dale P. Sandler, Senior Author and Chief, Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.

There were some limitations to the study. The questionnaire was only taken at the start of study so there is a chance that the women changed their preferences during some stage of the investigation. Additionally, the participant group was only made up of women, and the research may not be relevant to the breast cancer risk in men.