Researchers report that eating red meat is associated with an increased risk for breast cancer, and eating white meat with a reduced risk.
The prospective analysis, in the International Journal of Cancer, included 42,012 women who provided health and diet data for a national study of breast cancer. Researchers followed them for an average of seven and a half years.
Compared with those in the lowest one-fourth for meat consumption, those in the highest one-quarter were 23 percent more likely to develop invasive cancer; those in the highest one-quarter for white meat consumption were 15 percent less likely to develop it than those in the lowest quarter. The associations were stronger for breast cancer that arose after menopause.
The study controlled for age, physical activity, body mass index, calorie consumption and other diet and health characteristics.
The association was particularly strong when the women’s total consumption of meat was held constant and white meat was substituted for red meat. In that statistical model, women with the highest ratio of white meat to red meat consumption were at a 28 percent reduced risk.
Previous studies have looked at this link but produced inconsistent results, said the senior author, Dale P. Sandler, an epidemiologist with the National Institutes of Health.
“Here we show that eating white meat decreases your risk, and eating red meat increases it, by a small amount. If women reduced their consumption of red meat, it would reduce their risk for cancer.”