Barbecue lovers may have higher breast cancer risk

Postmenopausal women who like barbecued and smoked meat would be wise to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables too, a new study suggests.

Dr. Susan E. Steck of the University of South Carolina in Columbia and her colleagues found that postmenopausal women who consumed the most grilled, barbecued or smoked red meat over their lifetime have a 47 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Big meat-eaters who also skimped on fruit and vegetables had a 74 percent increased risk of the disease.

No relationship was detected between recent patterns of meat consumption and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. In addition, the investigators found no significant association between long- or short-term meat consumption and breast cancer in premenopausal women.

The findings “support the cancer prevention guidelines that are currently recommended” calling for people to eat more plant-based foods and limit processed or red meat consumption, Steck noted in an interview with Reuters Health.

However, she cautioned, the study found a close association, but didn’t actually show that cooked meats caused breast cancer. Other related factors could be at work, she explained, such as high fat content in the diet of women who consume these types of meat products.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines are known carcinogens produced by cooking meat at high temperatures, Steck and her team note in their report. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found in grilled, barbecued and smoked meat (as well as many other foods), while pan-fried and grilled meat have particularly high heterocyclic amine content.

Steck and her colleagues compared the lifetime and recent consumption of cooked meat among 1,508 women with breast cancer and 1,556 healthy women. Postmenopausal women in the highest two thirds for lifetime consumption of smoked, grilled or barbecued meats — more than once a week — had a 47 percent greater risk of the disease compared with women who ate the least amount of meat — once a week or less.

And postmenopausal women who ate plenty of barbecued or smoked meat but few fruits and vegetables (less than five servings per day) were at a 74 percent increased risk of breast cancer.

However, smoked, grilled or barbecued poultry or fish did not increase breast cancer risk when examined independently of red meat.

The finding that women who ate few fruits and vegetables were at greater risk supports lab and animal studies that have shown phytochemicals, which are found in fruits and vegetables, can protect against carcinogens, Steck noted.

Since the study is among the first to look at lifetime cooked meat consumption and breast cancer risk, she added, the findings need to be confirmed in other studies that examine lifetime dietary intake.

By Anne Harding
SOURCE: Epidemiology, May 2007.
Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved

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