Preschool Diet May Affect Adult Risk of Breast Cancer

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Diet and Breast Cancer

Diet during the early years of life has been thought to play a role in many diseases. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), in a study involving more than 2,000 female registered nurses, found that regular consumption of French fries during preschool age was associated with a significantly increased risk of breast cancer. These findings are published in the online, early view issue of the International Journal of Cancer.

According to lead author Karin B. Michels, ScD, PhD, a clinical epidemiologist at BWH and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, "Researchers are finding more evidence that diet early in life could play a role in the development of diseases in women later in life. This study provides additional evidence that breast cancer may originate during the early phases of a woman's life and that eating habits during that phase may be particularly important to reduce future risk of breast cancer."

To better understand the relation between preschool age diet and breast cancer, researchers analyzed the data of 582 women with breast cancer and 1,569 women free of breast cancer in 1993 who were part of the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII) cohorts. The researchers reviewed these women's diets from when they were ages three- to five-years. Dietary information was obtained from the mothers of the participants, who completed a food frequency questionnaire that queried them about how often their daughter at age 3 to 5 ate or drank an average serving of any of the 30 food items listed on the questionnaire.

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After reviewing the data, Michels and her colleagues found that for each additional serving of French fries per week when they were preschoolers women had a 27 percent increased risk of breast cancer later in life. Researchers stated that while consumption of potatoes themselves was not associated with adult breast cancer risk, the preparation of French fries, namely the use of frying fat high in saturated fats and trans-fatty acids may be of relevance.

In addition, researchers found that regular consumption of whole milk per day was associated with a modest decrease in risk of breast cancer.

"These data have to be interpreted cautiously since the observed association between consumption of French fries and breast cancer is dependent on the validity of the maternal recall of the diet," Michels cautioned. "Mothers were asked to recall their daughter's preschool diet after the participants' breast cancer status was known and it is possible that mothers of women with breast cancer recalled their daughter's diet differently than mothers of healthy women. Other foods perceived as less healthy such as hot dogs or ice cream, however, were not associated with breast cancer risk."

"Few data are available on the role of diet during early life for breast cancer risk. Breast cancer is a devastating disease and research such as this is important in helping guide future studies that will demonstrate how women can reduce their risk of this deadly disease," Michels said.

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