Breast cancer and barbecued meat link slammed

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

The study indicated breast cancer mortality rates fell among women consuming smoked poultry or fish
The study indicated breast cancer mortality rates fell among women consuming smoked poultry or fish

Related tags: Meat, Beef, Poultry

Experts have questioned a US study’s claims that higher consumption of grilled, barbecued or smoked meat may increase the premature mortality risk posed to breast cancer survivors.

The research into 1,500 women diagnosed with breast cancer suggested those continuing to consume relatively high intakes of barbecued, grilled or smoked meat five years later had increased their risk of dying from the disease or other ailments.

The peer-reviewed medical Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) study first started in 1996 to analyse any possible links between high consumption of barbecued, grilled or smoked meats and survival times after breast cancer diagnosis.

Compared to women with a low pre- and post-diagnosis annual consumption of the aforementioned meats, women with a continued high intake after diagnosis were associated with a 31% increase in what researchers called “all-cause mortality”.

Not ‘enough evidence’

However, Nick Allen, market development director at the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), urged caution. “These​ [reports] are based on epidemiological studies, which in no way show cause and effect.”

Dr Jasmine Just, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, questioned the report’s lack of evidence. “This study doesn’t give enough evidence to show if eating grilled, barbecued or smoked meat – before or after being diagnosed – can affect the risk of dying from breast cancer. But we know that eating processed and red meat – which includes these foods – can increase the risk of some types of cancer, so it’s still a good idea to cut down.”

Research findings

Between 1996 and 1997, JNCI researchers interviewed 1,508 women diagnosed with first primary invasive or in situ breast cancer to ascertain how much grilled, barbecued and/or smoked meat participants consumed. These interviews were repeated again five years later.

After reaching a median of 17.6 years of follow-ups, researchers recorded 597 deaths, of which 237 were directly related to breast cancer – or just under 40%.

The results associated women who already had high intake of barbecued, grilled or smoked meat intake pre-diagnosis with a 23% increase in all-cause mortality.

The study - one of several recently publicised linking cancer with processed meat consumption, also indicated that breast cancer mortality rates decreased among women with pre- and post-diagnosis intake of smoked poultry or fish.

A month ago, the Center for Science and the Public Interest filed a petition with the US Department of Agriculture in December calling for cancer warnings to appear on processed meat and poultry product labels​.

Related topics: Meat

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