There are many women for whom breast cancer is part of their family tree. Heredity can play an important role in the development of this devastating disease. But there are other women with no family history of breast cancer who are diagnosed every year having no idea how this could have happened to them.
But new research from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that what some of those women ate years ago as a teenager may have played a role.
“We know from lots of other data that that period of life is a critical period,” said Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health. “And the one thing that has been seen most clearly is consumption of red meat — both fresh meat and processed meat — during adolescence is related to higher risk of breast cancer.”
Researcher Maryam Farvid reviewed the data from nearly 45,000 women. She said girls don’t have to become vegetarians.
“If you just go from having red meat once a day to once a week, you can eliminate most of the risk,” Farvid said.
Researchers recommend choosing other forms of protein like nuts, beans, poultry and fish.
“That is the one thing that parents can steer their children towards to reduce their risk of breast cancer in the long run,” Willett said.
As for weight gain, research shows women increase their risk when they add pounds after menopause.
But as teenagers, it’s complicated.
“We actually see that the leaner girls have a higher risk of breast cancer later in life,” Willet said. “It’s quite a puzzle. It’s opposite to what everyone expected.”
Figuring out these connections between diet and risk could be key to preventing breast cancer in the next generation.
But one large-scale nutrition study — funded by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation — will take time.
The Growing Up Today Study has been tracking thousands of kids closely since 1996, but the oldest ones just turned 30.
“The participants have not really been old enough to start developing breast cancer yet, but within a decade or two, they will be.”
FoodFacts.com knows that everyone in our community works hard to make sure that their children are consuming nutritious, balanced diets. When it comes to breast cancer, nutritional awareness should take a front row seat in the educational process that can help us lower not only our own risk, but our daughters’ as well.