Rx Nutrition Resource Center

Rx Nutrition Resource Center

August 13, 2019
2 min read

Switching red meat for poultry may lower breast cancer risk

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Replacing red meat with poultry may lower the risk for breast cancer, according to study results published in the International Journal of Cancer.

“Disparities in the rate of breast cancer across different countries are likely to arise from lifestyle and environmental factors, including diet,” Jamie J. Lo, PhD student in the department of epidemiology in the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote.

“Meat consumption has been indicated to increase the risk of breast cancer in ecological studies, but in several cohort studies, this association has not been consistent,” they continued.

Researchers reviewed data from participants in the Sister Study, which consisted of women with family histories of breast cancer. Women aged 35 to 74 years with no previous breast cancer diagnosis were enrolled in the study from between 2003 and 2009. Breast cancer diagnoses were reported by participants through August 14, 2015, the end of the follow-up period.

Burger and fries 
Replacing red meat with poultry may lower the risk for breast cancer, according to study results published in the International Journal of Cancer.
Source: Adobe Stock

Participants completed food frequency questionnaires, which included questions about red meat and poultry consumption. Responses to questions involving the red meat and poultry serving size, how often it was consumed, cooking method and doneness were included in the study. Heme iron and meat mutagen consumption were calculated based on reported consumption.

Responses were divided into quartiles based on total meat eaten, with the least amount of meat consumed in the first quartile and most meat consumed in the fourth quartile.

After exclusions, 42,012 women with a mean 7.6 years of follow up were included in analyses. A total of 1,536 cases of invasive breast cancers were diagnosed more than a year after enrolling in the study.

Researchers found that eating more red meat increased the risk for invasive breast cancer (HR highest vs. lowest quartile = 1.23; 95% CI, 1.02-1.48). In contrast, eating more poultry was linked to a decreased risk for invasive breast cancer (HR highest vs. lowest quartile = 0.85; 95% CI, 0.72-1).

Results from a substitution model showed that the risk for invasive breast cancer decreased when the same amount of meat was consumed, but red meat was substituted with poultry (HR highest vs. lowest quartile of poultry consumption = 0.72; 95% CI, 0.58-0.89).

Lo and colleagues also found a stronger association between poultry and red meat consumption and postmenopausal breast cancer than premenopausal breast cancer.


The study did not identify significant links between breast cancer and meat cooking method, how well done it was cooked, heme iron or meat mutagen consumption.

“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,” Dale P. Sandler, PhD, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and a study author, stated in a press release. "While the mechanism through which poultry consumption decreases breast cancer risk is not clear, our study does provide evidence that substituting poultry for red meat may be a simple change that can help reduce the incidence of breast cancer. – by Erin Michael

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures..