(HealthDay News) — Higher intake of red meat is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, according to a study published online in BMJ.

Maryam S. Farvid, PhD, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues conducted a prospective cohort study to examine the correlation between dietary protein sources in early adulthood and the risk of breast cancer. Participants included 88,803 premenopausal women from the Nurses’ Health Study II who completed a dietary questionnaire in 1991.

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During 20 years of follow-up, the researchers documented 2,830 cases of breast cancer. There was a correlation between higher intake of total red meat and elevated breast cancer risk overall (relative risk, 1.22; Ptrend = 0.01 for highest vs. lowest fifth of intake). There was no correlation for higher intakes of poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, and nuts and breast cancer overall.

In postmenopausal women, higher intake of poultry correlated with lower breast cancer risk (relative risk, 0.73; Ptrend = 0.02); this trend was not seen in premenopausal women (relative risk, 0.93; Ptrend = 0.60).

The risk of breast cancer was reduced by 15% and 19%, respectively, among all women and premenopausal women by substituting one serving per day of legumes for one serving per day of red meat. The risks were reduced by 17% and 24%, respectively, by substituting one serving per day of poultry and by 14% each by substituting one serving per day of combined legumes, nuts, poultry, and fish.

“Further study of the relation between diet in early adulthood and risk of breast cancer is needed,” theresearchers wrote.


  1. Farvid MS, Cho E, Chen WY et al. Dietary protein sources in early adulthood and breast cancer incidence: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2014;doi:10.1136/bmj.g3437.