March 26, 2010 / 12:07 AM / 9 years ago

A healthy diet may trim women's breast cancer risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A woman can’t change her family history of breast cancer but she may be able to trim her chances of getting the disease by eating more vegetables and whole grains and drinking less alcohol, according to a new study.

A vendor eats her lunch at a vegetable stall at a market in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, December 11, 2008. REUTERS/Sean Yong

An analysis of 18 published studies involving 400,000 people conducted by Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland found there was an 11 percent lower risk of breast cancer among women in the highest versus lower categories of a prudent diet.

Those consuming larger amounts of wine, beer and spirits had a 21 percent increased risk of breast cancer, according to the analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“As the incidence of breast cancer continues to rise, with many of the risk factors for the disease non-modifiable, potentially modifiable risk factors such as diet are of interest,” researcher Dr. Sarah Brennan told Reuters Health.

But Brennan said these findings had to be interpreted cautiously as there are inherent statistical problems in combining the results of multiple studies, in addition to the limitations of each included study, such as recall bias.

She pointed to the need for more carefully designed studies in the future to further examine the diet-breast cancer link.

It is estimated that more than 120 out of every 100,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, yielding a lifetime risk of about 1 in 8.

The idea that diet might influence these numbers is not new but solid evidence for such a link has remained elusive with individual studies often too small to uncover modest relationships.

The studies used in the analysis each aimed to associate breast cancer risks with at least one common dietary pattern: the “unhealthy” Western diet (high in red meats and refined grains), a more prudent “healthy” diet (high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains), or varying levels of alcohol drinking.

No overall risk difference was seen between high and low categories of the Western diet.

Reporting by Lynne Peeples, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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