Younger women who regularly eat red meat appear to face an increased risk for a common form of breast cancer, according to a large, well-known Harvard study of women's health.
The study of more than 90,000 women found that the more red meat the women consumed in their 20s, 30s and 40s, the greater their risk for developing breast cancer fueled by hormones in the next 12 years. Those who consumed the most red meat had nearly twice the risk of those who ate red meat infrequently.
The study, published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is the first to examine the relationship between consumption of red meat and breast cancer in premenopausal women, and the first to examine the question by type of breast cancer.
Although more research is needed to confirm the association and explore the possible reasons for it, researchers said the findings provide another motivation to limit consumption of red meat, which is already known to increase the risk of colon cancer.
"There are already other reasons to minimize red meat intake," said Eunyoung Cho, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who led the study. "This just may give women another good reason."
Cho added that the findings could be particularly important because the type of breast cancer the study associated with red meat consumption has been increasing. Eating less red meat may help counter that trend.
Other researchers said the findings could offer women one of the few things they can do to reduce their risk for the widely feared malignancy. Breast cancer strikes nearly 213,000 U.S. women each year and kills nearly 41,000, making it the most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death among women.
"So many risk factors for breast cancer are things that you can't alter," said Nancy E. Davidson, a breast cancer expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "This represents something women could take charge of -- something you can change to affect your risk."