Food and Breast Cancer Studied

Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) — Eating fruits and vegetables in adulthood probably won't help women reduce their chances of getting breast cancer, according to the biggest analysis of the question ever done.

Previous research has suggested that diets high in fruits and vegetables may protect against other kinds of malignancies, such as colon cancer, but the results with breast cancer have been less clear.

The new report, based on an analysis of eight studies involving 351,825 women, is the largest to date, said Stephanie Smith-Warner, a scientist at Harvard's School of Public Health who led the research.

``Although we did not find an association between fruit and vegetable consumption and breast cancer risk in our study, higher fruit and vegetable consumption has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and other health conditions and continues to be an important part of a healthy diet,'' Smith-Warner said.

Nutritionist Gloria Stables, who directs a National Cancer Institute program that promotes the eating of at least five fruits and vegetables a day, also noted that the analysis does not answer whether a lifelong diet high in fruits and vegetables can prevent against breast cancer.

``Diets, particularly with breast cancer, are going to make an effect before adulthood,'' Stables said.

The findings appear in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Breast cancer will be diagnosed in about 192,000 U.S. women this year and will kill about 40,600, according to the American Cancer Society. About one in eight women can expect to get the disease.

Research into whether diet influences the risk stems from evidence that the disease is less common in countries where the typical diet is low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Also, many fruits and vegetables contain potential cancer-fighting substances such as antioxidants.

The studies documented participants' eating habits at the outset and then counted the number of breast cancer cases diagnosed during follow-ups of between six and 15 years. A total of 7,377 cases occurred.

Women with the highest consumption of fruits and vegetables — 4 1/2 to 10 servings a day — had about a 7 percent lower risk than women with the lowest consumption — about one to three servings. But the reduction was not considered statistically significant.

Under U.S. dietary guidelines, one serving equals about one medium-size piece of fruit or a half-cup of cooked vegetables.

The findings contradict results of a 1997 review by the American Institute for Cancer Research, which concluded that a diet high in fruits and especially vegetables probably decreases the risk of breast cancer.

In a JAMA editorial, University of Utah researcher Martha L. Slattery said the studies in the Harvard analysis did not all examine the same fruits and vegetables, which ``may be especially problematic if only certain types of vegetables or fruits confer protection.''

``In the meantime, an apple (or broccoli stalk) each day is probably not a bad idea,'' Slattery said.


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