Cancer News

Women’s health and nutrition: Eating less beef and more chicken helps lower breast cancer risk, claim researchers

A recent study by a team of U.S. researchers suggests that eating chicken instead of red meat can lower the risk of breast cancer, researchers claim.

Published in the International Journal of Cancer, the study demonstrated that increasing chicken consumption is linked to a decreased risk of invasive breast cancer. In contrast, increasing red meat consumption corresponded to a greater risk of invasive breast cancer.

In addition, the researchers’ substitution model demonstrated that substituting chicken for red meat can also reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer. Taken together, these findings suggest that eating chicken instead of red meat can reduce breast cancer risk.

Less beef, more chicken

Meat consumption has been linked to an increased risk and incidence of cancer in the past, but studies on the subject offer inconsistent findings.

To better examine this association, researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in North Carolina, the National Cancer Institute in Maryland and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York studied a cohort of 42,012 female participants who took part in the Sister Study, which was conducted by the NIEHS from 2003 to 2009 to examine risk factors that affect breast cancer risk, such as genetics and the environment.

The participants were between 35 to 74 years of age and came from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. In addition, each of the participants had a sister that had breast cancer.

The researchers gathered information on the participants’ consumption of different meat categories, portion sizes, as well as the methods and practices used to cook that meat through a series of questionnaires completed at enrollment. The team also looked at the participants’ medical histories, anthropometric measurements, individual diets and demographic information.

During the observation period (7.6 years) covered by the original study, the researchers noted 1,536 cases of incident breast cancer. Their analysis also revealed that participants that ate the most red meat had a 23 percent higher risk of invasive breast cancer than those seldom ate red meat.

In contrast, participants that ate more chicken than red meat had a 15 percent lower risk of invasive breast cancer. The team also found that these effects were more significant in postmenopausal participants.

In addition, the researchers used substitution models to determine if substituting chicken for red meat can alter breast cancer risk. From these models, it appeared that the beneficial effects of chicken consumption on breast cancer risk are more pronounced.

Despite these findings, senior author Dale Sandler from the NIEHS said that the mechanisms behind the effects of chicken consumption on breast cancer risk remain unclear.

Furthermore, the observational nature of the research can only establish an association at best and not a cause and effect relationship among the variables involved.

That said, Sandler said that their findings suggest that substituting chicken for red meat may help reduce the incidence of breast cancer. (Related: Alternative therapies for breast cancer.)

The relationship between meat and breast cancer risk

Past studies that looked at red meat and breast cancer risk have reported conflicting results. For instance, one large British study found that increased consumption of processed meat, not fresh red meat, corresponded to a greater risk of breast cancer.

In another article published in the International Journal of Cancer, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Keck School of Medicine of USC found that processed meat consumption could increase breast cancer risk.

On the other hand, earlier studies on chicken consumption and breast cancer risk found that a high intake of fried chicken, including the skin, also increased breast cancer risk. In contrast, eating just the white meat corresponded to a reduced risk of breast cancer.

Despite conflicting results and experimental evidence, these studies confirm that diet and nutrition can greatly affect a person’s risk of breast cancer.

Learn more about other potential causes of cancer at

Sources include:

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