Breast cancer affects approximately 1 in 8 women in the United States, making it the second most common cancer in women behind skin cancer.1

Study Examines Meat Intake in Relation to Breast Cancer Risk

Researchers explored the link between consuming different types of meat and the incidence of invasive breast cancer. Their findings were published in the International Journal of Cancer.2

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The investigators examined data from 42,012 women aged 35 to 74 years who had taken part in the Sister Study, a large prospective cohort. They tracked participants for an average of 7.6 years, during which time 1536 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed.

Dietary data were collected at baseline using the Food Frequency Questionnaire. The researchers sifted through data including type of meat consumed and how the women prefer their meat cooked (from rare to charred).

Red Meat vs Poultry

The investigators found that eating red meat was associated with increased risk for breast cancer: the women in the highest quartile of consumption were 23% more likely than those in the lowest quartile to develop the disease.

Conversely, they found that consuming white meat was associated with reduced risk for breast cancer: the women who ate the most white meat were 15% less likely to develop the condition compared with those who consumed the least.

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Analyzing Substitution Models

The investigators used substitution models to predict how breast cancer risk would change if an individual who consumed a large amount of red meat were to switch to white meat or vice versa. They found that the associations were “more pronounced in substitution models, indicating that substituting poultry for red meat decreases breast cancer risk when the total consumption of red meat and poultry is fixed.” Further, “substituting red meat for poultry increases breast cancer risk when total consumption of red meat and poultry is fixed.”

Substituting Poultry for Red Meat

The authors concluded that “red meat consumption increased the risk of invasive breast cancer, whereas poultry consumption was associated with reduced risk, particularly for postmenopausal invasive breast cancer.” Although further investigation is needed to understand the reasons behind the protective association of poultry on breast cancer risk, “it may be beneficial to replace [red] meat with poultry.”


  1. How common is breast cancer? American Cancer Society. Revised January 8, 2019. Accessed August 13, 2019.
  2. Lo JJ, Park YM, Sinha R, Sandler DP. Association between meat consumption and risk of breast cancer: findings from the Sister Study [published online August 6, 2019]. Int J Cancer. 2019;doi:10.1002/ijc.32547