Eating processed meats such as bacon and sausage may increase the risk for breast cancer in Latinas, while the same association was not found in white women. Cancer risk could be affected by race, ethnicity, genetics, culture, and lifestyle choices.1
“Few studies look at breast cancer risk factors specific to Latinas,” said senior author Mariana Stern, PhD, an associate professor in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Our focus was to understand if meat consumption is associated with breast cancer and whether there are differences between Latinas and white women. To our knowledge, this is the first study that has looked at meat intake among Latinas.”
Just a few months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared processed meat a carcinogen that increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Stern was among the panel of international scientists who helped come to that conclusion.
“The group was on the fence about concluding that processed meat intake may cause breast cancer and ultimately decided not to make that edict based on insufficient data from studies,” Stern said. “Now a new study shows there is an association between processed meat and breast cancer for 1 understudied population. In light of the WHO report, this discovery could be a wake-up call about the negative health effects associated with consuming processed meat such as bacon, beef jerky, and lunch meats.”
This study found that Latinas who consumed approximately 20 g of processed meat per day (the equivalent of a strip of bacon) were 42% more likely to develop breast cancer compared with Latinas who ate little or no processed meats.
“We’re not entirely sure why processed meat association was restricted to Hispanics, especially since we know processed meats are carcinogens,” said Andre Kim, a USC molecular epidemiology doctoral student and lead author of the study.
The research team examined the consumption of red meats, poultry, all fish, and just tuna. The study included 7470 participants derived from 2 other studies that included women who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, ranging in age from 25 years to 79 years. The control groups were random women from the same neighborhoods who did not have breast cancer.
White women who ate an average of 14 g of tuna daily (roughly the size of a thimble) were 25% more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not. The association for tuna on Latinas was comparable but not statistically significant.
Consuming fish involves both benefits and concerns. Although many fish are rich sources of omega-3 and other fatty acids, many also contain contaminant metals such as mercury and cadmium. Tuna has been reported to have a higher proportion of these contaminants, which may activate estrogen receptors and increase breast cancer risk, Stern said.
“One hypothesis for our different findings for processed meats between Latinas and non-Latinas is that the timing of exposure is important,” Kim said. “More attention is being given to exposures during adolescence because that is a key period in breast tissue development. Hispanics might experience worse dietary intake compared to white women in this time period.”
1. Kim AE, Lundgreen A, Wolff RK, et al. Red meat, poultry, and fish intake and breast cancer risk among Hispanic and Non-Hispanic white women: the Breast Cancer Health Disparities Study [published online ahead of print February 22,2 016]. Cancer Causes Control. doi:10.1007/s10552-016-0727-4.