Red meat/breast cancer link questioned by MLC

The MLC has questioned the relevance of an American study that claims eating red meat makes women twice as susceptible to breast cancer.

The MLC has questioned the relevance of an American study that claims eating red meat every day makes women twice as susceptible to certain types of breast cancer.

Differences in beef production in the US and UK and different eating habits should be considered, the MLC said.

Scientists from Harvard Medical School monitored the diets of 90,659 American pre-menopausal women from 1991 to 2003. The women were split into groups depending on how much red meat they ate, and scientists found those who ate more than one and a half servings of red meat a day were twice as likely to develop hormone receptor-positive breast cancer as women who ate less than three servings a week.

Hormone receptor-positive cancer means tumour growth is stimulated by the levels of oestrogen and progesterone in the body. Of the 1,012 women who developed breast cancer, 512 developed hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.

Researchers suggested that hormone treatments used to promote growth in American cattle could be a factor.

Eunyound Cho, lead author, said: "The reason why the amount of red meat consumed by a premenopausal women was related to her breast cancer risk is unknown, but this study shows that it has a strong association and that more research should be done to further explore this connection."

The MLC said the possible link with growth promoting hormones was significant. "It calls into question the relevance it has to the UK," said a spokesperson. "The authors say the results could have something to do with the synthetic hormones used in beef production in the US, but they have been banned in the EU, and the EU stands firm on that." The spokesperson added that Brits eat "considerably less red meat" than Americans.

Henry Scowcroft, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, was also cautious in assessing the study's significance: "According to this study, a woman would need to eat more than one and a half portions of meat a day, every day, to significantly increase her risk of hormone-sensitive breast cancer before the menopause.

"But the overall risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer is low when compared to getting the disease after the menopause. So even at the highest rates of meat consumption this is overall still a relatively small increase."