Study: Veggies won't cut breast cancer risk
BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will help cut a woman's chances of getting all sorts of dreaded diseases, but breast cancer isn't one of them, according to a new study being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In the study, researchers tracked the diets of 351,825 women and found no statistically significant difference in fruit and vegetable consumption between the women who developed breast cancer and those who didn't.
"Of course, I'm disappointed," said Ralph Coates, an epidemiologist and associate director for science at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division of cancer prevention and control. "I'd hoped there would be something out there for breast cancer because I'd like to see something women can do besides getting screened."
Not the last word?
But more studies are in the works -- including the Women's Health Initiative at the National Institutes of Health -- and Coates said they might have different findings.
"I don't think we've heard the last word on this," he said.
The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association is a compilation of nine studies from the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, and Sweden. The lead author is from the Harvard School of Public Health.
In an accompanying editorial, Martha Slattery of the School of Medicine at the University of Utah criticizes the report because individual studies collected information on different sets of fruits and vegetables.
Some previous reports have shown that eating fruits and vegetables does help deter breast cancer, while others have found diet doesn't make a difference.
Supporters of the theory say that anti-oxidants in fruits and vegetables -- Vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene -- would help stop the proliferation of free radicals, oxygen-containing molecules that can damage cells.
Cancer experts emphasize that everyone should eat a healthy diet because there is evidence it will cut down on the chances of getting heart disease and diabetes as well as pharyngeal, esophageal, oral, lung and colon cancer.
Steps against breast cancer
The most important thing a woman can do to lower her chances of getting breast cancer, experts say, is examine her breasts every month and have regular mammograms.
Cancer experts add that several other factors, while not as important as exams and mammograms, are becoming clear.
"Consistently it's been found that women who drink more than one drink a day have about a 20 percent higher risk for breast cancer than women who do not drink," said Harmon Eyre, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.
Post-menopausal women who are obese also have about a 20 percent higher risk of getting breast cancer, Eyre said. Doctors think this is because once the ovaries stop producing estrogen, the hormone is released from fat cells. Studies have shown that the more estrogen a woman has circulating in her body, the higher the risk of breast cancer.
"Estrogen causes breast cells to proliferate, and the more the cells proliferate, the more likely a mistake will be made during replication, which can lead to cancer," said Leslie Bernstein, an epidemiologist with the department of preventative medicine at the University of Southern California.
Bernstein's work has pointed to something else women can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer: Get active.
Her studies have shown that among both young and menopausal women, exercising two to three hours per week can result in a 30 percent reduced risk of getting breast cancer -- and four or more hours a week can lead to a 50 percent reduction. Women who exercise have lower levels of estrogen, Bernstein said.
But cancer experts say a woman can stay away from alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, be active and still get breast cancer.
"The most fundamental problem we're dealing with is we don't know the cause of breast cancer," Eyre said. "But we will find out."
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