by Katrina Kahl
Premenopausal women who eat red meat regularly may have an increased risk of estrogen- an progesteronereceptor-positive breast cancer, according to a study published in the November 2006 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.1 The study found a trend between increased red meat consumption and increased risk of hormone-fueled breast cancers, with women in the highest red meat group (more than one and a half servings per day) having almost double the risk of women eating three or fewer servings per week. The trend was not observed for estrogen- and progesterone-receptor-negative breast cancers.
The study was part of the larger Nurses’ Health Study II, conducted by researchers at Harvard University who followed more than 90,000 women between the ages of 26 and 46 for 12 years. Red meat intake was measured through food frequency questionnaires given to the participants, who were then divided into five categories of red meat consumption based on servings per day or week. The risk of hormone-fueled breast cancers increased with each increase in category of red meat consumption.
The study is significant because it is the first to examine the association between red meat and breast cancer risk by both breast cancer type and menopausal status. Earlier studies that did not differentiate between hormone-receptor and menopausal status have been inconclusive in part because diet in early adult life may have a stronger impact than in later life and because hormone-fueled breast cancers are more susceptible to hormone-related lifestyle risk factors.
The researchers in this study note many potential biological reasons for the association between red meat intake and hormone-fueled breast cancers, including the use of hormones in cattle production. Growing concern over the use of hormones in food production prompted the European Union to ban the use of hormones to raise livestock in 1988. Despite health and environmental concerns, the United States continues to use hormones to speed the growth of cattle. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of cattle raised in the United States today are injected with growth hormones.2
BCA continues to support the precautionary principle, which in this case would caution against waiting for absolute proof of harm before discontinuing the use of hormones in food production. For more information about the precautionary principle, visit www.takingprecaution.org. What else can you do? Vote with your fork! If aff ordable and available, choose hormone-free meat and dairy products at the supermarket. Look for meat with a “USDAcertified organic” or “hormone-free” label and for dairy products with a “rBST-free” or “rBGH-free” label.
1 Eunyoung Cho, et al., “Red Meat Intake and Risk of Breast Cancer Among Premenopausal Women,” Arch Intern Med 166, No. 20 (November 13, 2006): 2253-2259.
2 Janet Raloff, “Hormones: Here’s the Beef: Environmental Concerns Reemerge Over Steroids Given to Livestock.”Science News 161, No. 1 (January 5, 2002): 10.