Poultry, which includes chicken, turkey, and other fowl such as duck and guinea, constitutes the largest proportion of meat consumed by the US population.1 The risk of cancer incidence associated with poultry consumption — most often defined as chicken or chicken and turkey — has been evaluated in epidemiologic studies. Most studies have, however, found no association between high poultry consumption and the development of cancer, though several studies demonstrated a positive association with thyroid cancer.

Thyroid Cancer

An analysis of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study included 292,477 participants aged 51 to 72 years who completed a food frequency questionnaire from adolescence and mid-life.2 The median follow-up was 10 years and 325 developed thyroid cancer. Chicken and/or turkey consumption during adolescence, but not mid-life, demonstrated a significant dose-response relationship to an increased risk of thyroid cancer (P-trend < .02). The hazard ratio (HR) increased with a higher intake per day from 1.03 (95% CI, 0.66-1.60) in quartile 2 to 1.39 (95% CI, 0.91-2.12) and 1.59 (0.97-2.60) in quartiles 3 and 4 compared with quartile 1. The overall HR for high consumption of chicken and turkey during adolescence or mid-life was not significant, at 1.77 (95% CI, 0.81-3.85) and 1.12 (95% CI, 0.66-1.91), respectively.

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A systematic review identified a population-based case-control study consisting of 313 cases and controls, and a cohort study — also from the NIH-AARP study — which found a significant positive association between poultry consumption and thyroid cancer.3 In the case-control study, high chicken consumption resulted in an odds ratio (OR) of 3.0 (95% CI, 1.3-6.8; P < .01) compared with no consumption. In the cohort study, which included 492,186 males with a follow-up of 9 years, high poultry consumption resulted in an HR of 1.74 (95% CI, 1.14-2.67; P = .005) compared with low consumption.

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Other Cancers

Multiple meta-analyses of prospective cohort and case-control studies found no association between poultry consumption and risk of bladder, breast, colorectal, endometrial, esophageal, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and renal cancers, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.4-19

A pooled analysis of the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study found a positive dose-response relationship between increasing levels of intake of chicken without skin, but not with skin, and the risk of bladder cancer (P = .01).5 The highest consumption level of at least 5 servings per week was associated with an increased risk of bladder cancer among men (relative risk [RR], 1.52; 95% 1.09-2.11), but not women (RR, 1.45; 95% CI, 0.96-2.17). There was no association for fewer than 5 servings per week of chicken with or without skin.

Though a meta-analysis demonstrated no association between poultry consumption and prostate cancer, one study found an increased risk of prostate cancer progression with higher levels of poultry consumption after diagnosis.16,18 In a prospective study of 1294 men with prostate cancer without evidence of progression or recurrence at enrollment, higher consumption of poultry with skin was significantly associated with progression (HR, 2.26; 95% CI, 1.36-3.76; P-trend = .03). This association was particularly evident among men with high prognostic risk compared with those with low/intermediate prognostic risk (P = .003).18

Several studies demonstrated that high poultry consumption may have a protective effect against cancer risk. A meta-analysis of 23 case-control and 11 cohort studies that was adjusted for smoking or included only never-smokers found an inverse association between poultry consumption and lung cancer (RR, 0.91; 95% CI, 0.85-0.97).12 A population-based case-control study of 532 pancreatic cancer cases and 1701 controls also demonstrated an inverse association between chicken and/or turkey consumption and pancreatic cancer (OR, 0.7; 95% CI, 0.5-1.0).15


Epidemiologic evidence suggests that high poultry consumption is not associated with an increased risk of most cancers, including cancer mortality.20 Several studies indicate that high poultry consumption, particularly during adolescence, may, however, increase the risk of thyroid cancer. Prostate cancer progression may also be affected by consumption of poultry with skin.


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