Saturated fats linked to breast cancer risk

3 minute read

The bad news about a diet high in saturated fats just keeps getting worse


The bad news about a diet high in saturated fats just keeps getting worse

Eating saturated fats during adolescence has been associated with significantly increased breast density 15 years later, new research shows.

A study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention is the first to examine the relationship between breast density – a known risk factor for breast cancer – and saturated, poly and monounsaturated fats.

Comparing the extreme quartiles of adolescent saturated fat intake, the percentage breast dense volume increased from 16.4% to 21.5%. The reverse was true for unsaturated fats, with breast density decreasing significantly.

Breasts were particularly susceptible to external influences during adolescence when the mammary ducts elongated and branched, the study found.

“What this study is really reporting is that the micro-environment of the development of breast tissues is affected by fat and that the relationship leads to greater density,” Professor Sanchia Aranda, Cancer Council Australia’s chief executive, told The Medical Republic.

In the study, the diets of 177 female participants aged 10 to 18 years were assessed on five occasions by 24-hour recalls and averaged. The breast density of each participant (aged 25 to 29) was then determined using noncontrast MRI as part of a follow-up study.

Dr Jane O’Brien, specialist breast and oncoplastic surgeon, told TMR developing breasts had also been shown to be sensitive to radiation.

Factors such as obesity and alcohol were known risks for breast cancer but this was the first study to suggest that dietary fat might play a role, Dr O’Brien said.

“Unfortunately, the greatest risk factors for breast cancer are not modifiable, like gender, age and family history,” she said.

“And therefore everyone is eternally searching for modifiable risk factors and this is just another look at the same thing. Are there other dietary factors that we can manipulate to reduce your risk?”

Dr O’Brien said the study was not definitive as the sample size was small and the difference in breast density due to diet was only modest.

“But we know that a diet high in saturated fats is not good for you so it is probably not a bad message to take home anyway,” she said.

Professor Aranda said population-based mammographic screening programs had established a link between breast cancer and breast density, but the reason for the association was unknown.

High breast density also carries the risk of tumours not being detected early, she added.

According to Professor Aranda, the study provided some hints about what interventions future population-level studies could focus on to try to reduce the incidence of breast cancer.

She said saturated fats were also implicated in a number of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, and public health messaging should promote sport and physical activity for young people, particularly women.

Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 2016, online May 24


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