Swapping red meat for poultry could drastically reduce a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer, a new major study finds.
Researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the US have found that while eating more red meat is associated with a greater risk of developing invasive breast cancer, eating more poultry such as chicken, turkey and duck is linked to a decreased risk of the disease.
“Red meat has been identified as a probable carcinogen,” said Dr Dale Sandler, who led the study published in the International Journal of Cancer.
“Our study adds further evidence that red meat consumption may be associated with increased risk of breast cancer whereas poultry was associated with decreased risk.”
For the research, scientists looked at the meat consumption and meat cooking practices of 42,012 women over the course of seven years.
In a follow-up study, 1,536 cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed.
Participants who consumed the highest amount of red meat were found to have a 23 per cent greater risk of breast cancer than those who consumed the lowest amount.
Meanwhile, women who ate the highest amount of poultry in their diet had a 15 per cent lower risk of the disease than those with the lowest consumption.
The findings remained unaffected even when factors such as physical activity, obesity and alcohol consumption were taken into account.
No links were established between the way the meat was cooked and breast cancer risks.
Dr Sadler explained that while the mechanism through which poultry consumption decreases breast cancer risk is not clear, the study “does provide evidence that substituting poultry for red meat may be a simple change that can help reduce the incidence of breast cancer”.
This is not the first time the consumption of red meat has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
In 2014, a study by Harvard School of Public Health found a link between a higher red meat intake during early adulthood and an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
“Higher red meat intake in early adulthood may be a risk factor for breast cancer”, the authors said.
“And replacing red meat with a combination of legumes, poultry, nuts and fish may reduce the risk of breast cancer.”
Similarly, a 2019 study by the University of Oxford suggested that eating processed meats, such as sausages, bacon and ham, on just four days a week increases the risk bowel cancer by around 20 per cent, despite being well within government dietary guidelines.
Guidelines from the Department of Health recommend anyone eating more than 90g of red or processed meat a day on average should aim to reduce it below 70g - roughly the UK average.