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Avoid saturated fat and reduce breast cancer risk

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According to a new study, women who consume high quantities of saturated fat may be at increased risk for certain types of breast cancer. The findings were published April 9 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute by European researchers.

The study authors note that previous studies have reported conflicting results regarding whether dietary fat increases the risk of breast cancer. Therefore, they conducted a large, long-term study to assess the association. The study group comprised 337,000 women from 10 European nations; they filled out questionnaires regarding their diet and lifestyle and were followed for an average of 11 to 12 years. The investigators assessed fat intake as predictor of developing certain types of breast cancer: estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor 2 receptor positive (HER2).

Over a period of 11.5 years, the investigators identified 10,062 cases of breast cancer. Statistical analysis as conducted on the data. Compared to women who consumed the lowest amount of fat and saturated fat, consumption of a large amount of fat and saturated fat was associated with a higher risk of ER+PR+ cancer (1.20-fold increased risk) but not ER−PR− cancer. High saturated fat consumption was significantly associated with a higher risk of HER2− disease. High saturated fat intake was found to particularly increase the risk of receptor-positive disease; this finding suggested that saturated fat increased the risk of this type of breast cancer.

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health, breast cancer is the leading cause of premature cancer deaths in the county and the second leading cause of death, behind lung cancer in the county. The following are risk factors for breast cancer:

  • Age: The risk of breast cancer increases with age.
  • History of breast cancer: If you have had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing cancer in the other breast.
  • Family history of breast cancer. If your mother, sister or daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, particularly at a young age, your risk of breast cancer is increased. However, the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
  • Inherited genes that increase cancer risk: Certain gene mutations that increase the risk of breast cancer can be passed from parents to children. The most common gene mutations are referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes can greatly increase your risk of breast cancer and other cancers; however, they do not mean that you will actually develop breast cancer.
  • Radiation exposure: If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, your risk of breast cancer is increased.
  • Obesity: Being obese increases your risk of breast cancer.
  • Beginning your menses at a younger age: Beginning your period before age 12 increases your risk of breast cancer.
  • Beginning menopause at an older age: If you began menopause at an older age, you're more likely to develop breast cancer.
  • Having your first child at an older age: Women who give birth to their first child after age 35 may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Having never been pregnant: Women who have never been pregnant have a greater risk of breast cancer than do women who have had one or more pregnancies.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Women who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer decreases when women stop taking these medications.

Take home message:

This study suggests that a diet high in saturated fats increases the risk of breast cancer. However, this type of diet increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Thus, this type of diet should be avoided anyway.