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Study: Fat Intake Does Not Increase Breast Cancer Risk

By Nelson C. Hsu

A team headed by investigators at the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention has found no evidence of any relationship between fat intake and the risk of developing breast cancer, according to a study published in last week's New England Journal of Medicine.

"We observed no difference in the incidence of breast cancer in women consuming high fat diets and those consuming low fat diets," David Hunter, the lead author of the study, said in a press release.

Since the study finds that fat intake has no correlation with breast cancer, investigators concluded that reducing fat intake has no effect on breast cancer risk.

"Our results suggest that a reduction in total fat consumption by middle-aged or older women is unlikely to reduce breast cancer risk," said Hunter, who is an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers did not observe a risk reduction among women whose fat intake was as low as 20 percent of daily caloric intake, well below current United States Dietary Association guidelines, according to the report.

Individual measures for saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat were also made and found no correlation with the risk of breast cancer, the report said.

The study, conducted on an international scale, was based on data obtained from seven populations from four different countries.

"Because dramatic differences in breast cancer rates have been observed between countries, we were interested in exploring further how diet could contribute to the development of breast cancer," Hunter said.

Previous studies which attempted to dispel any links between fat intake and the risk of breast cancer were often criticized for their limited size and scope.

But this study pooled 4,980 cases of breast cancer from prospective studies of more than 300,000 women.

"By pooling primary data from seven major prospective studies of dietary fat and breast cancer, we were able to examine diverse populations covering a much wider range of fat intake than possible in any individual study," Hunter said.

Though fat intake does not seem to affect the risks of breast cancer, researchers cautioned that fats should be avoided for other health reasons.

"Despite the lack of association with breast cancer, there are other good reasons to limit intake of red meat and high fat dairy foods and to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, including the prevention of colon cancer and heart disease," Hunter said.

Although no "new" research was done in the study, the study has been hailed as significant as a standardized, and thus more accurate and credible, analysis of the already available data.

According to the report, the results which were pooled together came from studies which met three criteria: the study included a minimum of 200 cases of breast cancer, the study used a baseline derived from a comprehensive questionnaire about food intake from the previous year and data from a validation study of the diet-assessment method was available.

Investigators from the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, the Universities of Toronto, Minnesota, Loma Linda, Limburg (the Netherlands), Uppsala (Sweden), the State University of New York at Buffalo and the TNO Nutrition Institute in the Netherlands collaborated on this study.

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