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High-Fat Diet during Puberty May Increase Breast Cancer Risk


French fries, milk shakes, and other high-fat foods are favorites during puberty, but they may also increase the risk of breast cancer among young girls. The findings are based on preliminary results from mice studies conducted at Michigan State University (MSU).

Breast Cancer and Diet
The relationship between diet and the risk of breast cancer has been the topic of much debate and many studies. One recent study reported that women who followed a Mediterranean diet were less likely to have breast cancer than those who did not adhere to such a diet, although this observation was seen only in postmenopausal women and not younger ones.

In another study, also in postmenopausal women, researchers found that those who reduce their intake of fat and who have been treated for early stage breast cancer can reduce their chances for recurrence or a second breast cancer. A more recent study (July 2010) published in Lancet found that women who average more than 90 grams of fat daily have about twice the risk of breast cancer than those who eat just 37 grams.

High-Fat Diet and Breast Cancer Study

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According to Sandra Haslam, director of the MSU Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center, preliminary research in animals indicates that following a high-fat diet during puberty can lead to the production of factors that cause inflammation in the mammary glands of adults, which in turn can promote cancer growth. Both Haslam and Richard Schwartz, a microbiology professor and associate dean in the College of Natural Science, had previously discovered that progesterone activates genes that trigger inflammation in breast tissue and that inflammation may play a major role in increasing the risk of breast cancer.

The scientists also discovered that consuming a high-fat diet during puberty results in many of the same effects they observed when working with progesterone. Puberty is a critical time, because that is when the foundation for mammary gland development is established, and the changes that occur at that time can have a lifetime impact.

Haslam and Schwartz will be broadening their research with a new, five-year grant, which they will use to evaluate mouse models of breast cancer and the effects of high-fat diets during puberty. Their research will also include testing of anti-inflammatory approaches designed to combat the negative impact of a high-fat diet on inflammation.

It is still too early to tell whether consuming a high-fat diet during puberty will increase the risk of breast cancer in later life. However, Haslam and Schwartz have uncovered convincing evidence and will continue to explore the relationship, as their findings could have a significant effect on how breast cancer is viewed and on how it can be prevented.

Chlebowski RT et al. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2006; 98(24): 1767-76
Michigan State University
Trichopoulou A et al. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2010 Sep; 92(3): 620-25