Barbecue Lovers May Have
Higher Breast Cancer Risk
Postmenopausal women who like barbecued and smoked meat would
be wise to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables too, a new study
Dr. Susan E. Steck of the University of South Carolina in Columbia
and her colleagues found that postmenopausal women who consumed
the most grilled, barbecued or smoked red meat over their lifetime
have a 47 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Big meat-eaters
who also skimped on fruit and vegetables had a 74 percent increased
risk of the disease.
No relationship was detected between recent patterns of meat
consumption and breast cancer in postmenopausal women. In addition,
the investigators found no significant association between long-
or short-term meat consumption and breast cancer in premenopausal
The findings "support the cancer prevention guidelines that
are currently recommended" calling for people to eat more
plant-based foods and limit processed or red meat consumption,
However, she cautioned, the study found a close association,
but didn't actually show that cooked meats caused breast cancer.
Other related factors could be at work, she explained, such as
high fat content in the diet of women who consume these types
of meat products.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines are
known carcinogens produced by cooking meat at high temperatures,
Steck and her team note in their report. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
are found in grilled, barbecued and smoked meat (as well as many
other foods), while pan-fried and grilled meat have particularly
high heterocyclic amine content.
Steck and her colleagues compared the lifetime and recent consumption
of cooked meat among 1,508 women with breast cancer and 1,556
healthy women. Postmenopausal women in the highest two thirds
for lifetime consumption of smoked, grilled or barbecued meats
-- more than once a week -- had a 47 percent greater risk of the
disease compared with women who ate the least amount of meat --
once a week or less.
And postmenopausal women who ate plenty of barbecued or smoked
meat but few fruits and vegetables (less than five servings per
day) were at a 74 percent increased risk of breast cancer.
However, smoked, grilled or barbecued poultry or fish did not
increase breast cancer risk when examined independently of red
The finding that women who ate few fruits and vegetables were
at greater risk supports lab and animal studies that have shown
phytochemicals, which are found in fruits and vegetables, can
protect against carcinogens, Steck noted.
Since the study is among the first to look at lifetime cooked
meat consumption and breast cancer risk, she added, the findings
need to be confirmed in other studies that examine lifetime dietary
SOURCE: Epidemiology, May 2007.