A recent study suggests that drinking a cup of milk a day increases a women’s risk of breast cancer by 50%. However, some health experts do not agree…
Should you give up milk as a preventative measure for breast cancer? The link between drinking dairy milk and developing breast cancer is not a one-sided affair.
A recent study by Fraser et al., published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, suggests that drinking more than one cup of milk a day may increase women’s risk of breast cancer by 50%.
As the leading authorities on research about the role of diet, nutrition and physical activity in cancer prevention, the WCRF runs the Continuous Update Project, in which they analyse current research on how lifestyle factors affect cancer risk.
A review of almost 120 studies
After reviewing 119 studies that investigated the association between diet and the risk for breast cancer, the WCRF concluded in their Third Expert Report that there is no convincing evidence of a link between regularly consuming milk and developing breast cancer. In fact, there is some evidence that consuming dairy products or following a diet high in calcium might decrease the risk of breast cancer in both pre- and postmenopausal women.
While the findings by Fraser et al. should not be discounted, they should be interpreted with caution.
Findings from single observational studies, such as the one by Fraser et al., are generally considered to be of lower scientific validity than those based on systematic reviews or meta-analyses of large studies, such as used in the WCRF report. The authors of the study indeed acknowledge that a simple cause-effect relationship cannot be inferred from an observational design.
Breast cancer is a multifactorial disease, in which factors such as genetic history, lifestyle factors, dietary habits and ethnicity may all have an integrated role. For research findings to comment responsibly on the association between cancer and dietary patterns, a large body of evidence that is representative of the general population should be investigated and confounding factors need to be considered.
Current scientific evidence suggests that regular consumption of dairy is associated with a healthy lifestyle and the prevention of a number of non-communicable diseases. In a holistic approach, where balance, variety, moderation and nutritional adequacy are valued, dietary recommendations cannot omit dairy. The findings of Fraser et al. therefore warrant further investigation, rather than being accepted as a definitive comment on the association between dairy consumption and cancer risk.
Source: The Consumer Education Project of Milk SA
- Fraser GE, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Ohrlich M, Mashchak A, Sirirat R, Knutsen S. Dairy, soy, and risk of breast cancer: those confounded milks. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2020; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyaa007
- World Cancer Research Fund, American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project: Breast Cancer. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/breast-cancer
- Zang J, Shen M, Du S, Chen T, Zou S. The association between dairy intake and breast cancer in Western and Asian populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Breast Cancer. 2015; 18(4):312-322. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4048/jbc.2015.18.4.313
- Dong J-Y, Zhang L, He Ka, Qin L-Q. Dairy consumption and risk of breast cancer: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2011; 127:23-31.
- Consumer Education Project (Milk SA). Dairy foods and cancer prevention. //www.rediscoverdairy.co.za/otw-portfolio-category/nutrition-reviews/
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