Health & Wellness

Breast-Cancer Study Called Into Question

Choosing poultry over red meat has been associated with lower rates of breast cancer—but that’s not the whole story


A study conducted by researchers at the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that women who eat red meat have an increased risk for breast cancer, while those who opt for poultry are less likely to develop the disease.

Studying the health record and diets of 42,000 women, researchers found that those who ate the most red meat had a 23% higher risk for developing breast cancer, while those who ate the largest amount of poultry saw a 15% reduction in risk.

“Red meat has been identified as a probable carcinogen,” senior author Dale Sandler said in a statement. “Our study adds further evidence that red meat consumption may be associated with increased risk of breast cancer whereas poultry was associated with decreased risk.”

Researchers said the findings remained the same when adjusted for other risk factors, such socioeconomic status, obesity, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and diet.

However, after the study was published other experts in the field objected that the study failed to show a causation between red meat and breast cancer and called into question whether other risk factors were appropriately accounted for.

“The study is an association/correlational relationship, rather than one of cause and effect,” Clare Shaw, a consultant dietician in oncology at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London, England, said in a joint press release with two other British experts on cancer.

“The [NIEHS] press release fails to accurately acknowledge the multiple other factors—such as amount of physical activity, alcohol consumption, and smoking—which are mentioned in the paper. Once these were taken into account, there was not a significant association between red meat and an increased risk of breast cancer.”

Shaw went on to state that, for a number of reasons related to the way in which the study was conducted, “It is inaccurate to suggest that poultry is ‘protective’ against breast cancer.”

Photo: iStock/olgakr.