Can too much red meat raise breast cancer risk?

Can too much red meat raise breast cancer risk?

Ladies, are you eating a lot of burgers and steaks? You may consider swapping them for a chicken salad topped with beans and nuts when you learn that eating too much red meat may increase your risk of breast cancer.

Eating a lot of red meat in early adulthood may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal suggests. Past research has shown that eating a lot of red meat increases the risk of colon cancer. Medical experts have long included red meat near the top of their list of foods one should limit to avoid heart disease. Now Harvard researchers say eating red meat in early adult life also increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

The scientists analyzed data from 88,803 women aged 24 to 43. During 20 years of follow-up, the team, led by Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, analyzed the diets of almost 3,000 women who developed breast cancer. Higher consumption of red meat was associated with a 22 percent increased risk of breast cancer overall.

Harvard researchers say replacing red meat with a combination of legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), poultry, nuts and fish may reduce the risk of breast cancer.

“Other studies have hinted towards a breast cancer risk benefit in a low red meat diet, but this is a very large study with more convincing evidence,” says Dr. Heidi Memmel, breast surgeon and medical co-director of the Caldwell Breast Center at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Eating a well-balanced diet is important. Women can reduce their breast cancer risk by maintaining a healthy weight, increasing physical activity, and it’s not a bad idea to swap some red meat for poultry, beans or fish.”

However, Dr. Memmel points out that it’s important to remember that diet and exercise can’t prevent breast cancer completely. “Being female, increasing age and having a significant family history are three main risk factors for developing breast cancer,” Dr. Memmel adds. “But we are now seeing a higher risk of breast cancer associated with things that we can control, such as obesity, alcohol intake, smoking and diet.”

Learn more about breast cancer risk factors in this video from Dr. Memmel. And for more information on breast health, visit

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One Comment

  1. The question here is: how much is too much? And does it matter what cut and what kind of red meat you’re eating? If you’re eating an organically raised, grass-fed pot roast or flank steak twice a week, is that better than eating a hamburger twice a week? Does it make a difference if you’re eating organically raised pork or lamb insted of beef? Thre’s too much we don’t know here — but NOBODY needs to eat a hamburger more than once a week. You should be varying your diet more than that anyway to get more of the necessary vitamins and minerals. Why not switch limit your beef consumption twice a week and switch off with, say, lox on a bagel twice a week? The fish oil in the salmon is good for you, and lox tastes great! Especially with low-fat chive cream cheese on a whole-grain onion bagel. You can round out the rest of the week with chicken, eggs, dairy and other protein sources. Also, there really shoudl be a clarification re: whether pork is considered red meat.

About the Author

Sonja Vojcic
Sonja Vojcic

Sonja Vojcic, health enews contributor, is a marketing manager at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove, Ill. She has several years of international public relations and marketing experience with a Master’s degree in Communications from DePaul University. In her free time, Sonja enjoys spending time with her family, travelling, and keeping up with the latest health news and fashion trends.