The consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of developing cancer and dying from it, according to research published in eClinicalMedicine.
The consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increased risk of cancer and cancer death overall, an increased risk of ovarian cancer and related death, and an increased risk of breast cancer-related death.
This study included 197,426 individuals from the UK Biobank. The mean age of the cohort was 58 years (range, 40-60 years), 54.6% of patients were women, 95.3% were White (95.3%), and 35.5% had a family history of cancer.
Patients completed 24-hour dietary recalls between 2009 and 2012 and were followed through January 2021. Foods the participants reported consuming were categorized according to their level of processing, and consumption was indicated as a percentage of individuals’ total food intake.
Ultra-processed food consumption comprised 22.9% of participants’ total diet, with the highest value at 41.4% and the lowest at 9.2%. Foods that were classified as ultra-processed included soft drinks, industrial-processed breads, packaged snacks, breakfast cereals, reconstituted meat products, and ready-to-eat or heat-to-eat foods.
At a median follow-up of 9.89 years, a total of 15,921 study participants developed cancer, and there were 4009 cancer deaths.
The researchers assessed the association between ultra-processed food consumption and cancers, adjusting for race/ethnicity, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol consumption, family history of cancer, and other potential confounders.
The researchers found that every 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a significant increase in cancer risk (hazard ratio [HR], 1.02; 95% CI, 1.01-1.04; P <.01).
When the researchers looked at specific cancers, they found that ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer (HR for every 10% increase, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.08-1.30; P <.001).
However, there was no significant association between ultra-processed food consumption and head and neck cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, lung cancer, genitourinary cancer, brain and central nervous system cancer, breast cancer, uterine cancer, thyroid cancer, melanoma, or hematologic malignancies.
Overall, cancer mortality was associated with ultra-processed food consumption. With every 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption, there was an increased risk of:
- Any cancer-related mortality (HR, 1.06; 95% CI, 1.03-1.09; P <.001)
- Breast cancer-related mortality (HR, 1.16; 95% CI, 1.02-1.32; P <.05)
- Ovarian cancer-related mortality (HR, 1.30; 95% CI, 1.13-1.50; P <.001).
“These findings suggest that limiting UPF [ultra-processed food] consumption may be beneficial to prevent and reduce the modifiable burdens of cancer,” the researchers concluded.
Chang K, Gunter MJ, Rauber F, et al. Ultra-processed food consumption, cancer risk and cancer mortality: A large-scale prospective analysis within the UK Biobank. eClinMed. Published online January 31, 2023. doi:10.1016/j.eclinm.2023.101840