Processed meat raises risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women

Consuming as little as four grams of processed meat can increase breast cancer risk by 15 percent.

A new study published in the European Journal of Cancer found that high consumption of processed meats, such as hot dogs, is linked to a higher overall risk in breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Unprocessed red meat was not associated with the development of breast cancer.

“Red and processed meat may be risk factors for breast cancer due to their iron content, administration of estrogens to cattle or mutagens created during cooking,” wrote lead author Jill Pell, MD, with the University of Glasgow in Scotland. “We studied the associations in UK Biobank and then included the results in a meta- analysis of published cohort studies.”

Researchers analyzed the meat consumption habits of more than 262,000 women between the ages of 40 to 69 from the UK Biobank. They followed up with the participants after an average of seven years. The researchers found that more than 4,800 had developed breast cancer.

“The participants who developed breast cancer were older, more affluent, less physically active, more likely to be white and former smokers, had higher body mass indices and reported lower alcohol and raw vegetable intake, but higher intake of red and processed meat,” the authors wrote.

The researchers also compared their analysis to results from ten previous studies in a meta-analysis that reviewed the link between intake of processed meats and breast cancer risk, but not red meat.

Women who consumed less than four grams of processed meat per day, had an increased risk of breast cancer by 15 percent and those that consumed more than nine grams per day, increased their risk by 21 percent.

“In conclusion, high consumption of processed meat was associated with higher overall risk of breast cancer; but this association was driven by post-menopausal breast cancer,” wrote the authors.