Sweets May Promote Breast Cancer

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DSC 9625 Sweets May Promote Breast CancerBreast cancer is the most common cancer in women after skin cancer and it is the number one cancer killer of women who do not smoke. Most cases of breast cancer occur after menopause and are more common in overweight and obese women. Cases of breast cancer that develop earlier in life have not been associated with increased body fat stores. Studies of the incidence of breast cancer in different countries have often found that a diet higher in fat and lower in fruits and vegetables is associated with more breast cancer. However, case control studies in the U.S. have not found a consistent relationship between these dietary variables and breast cancer risk. Epidemiological studies have suggested that there is something about a modern diet that seems to promote the development of breast cancer but precisely what dietary factors are involved is still uncertain.

A new study examined the diets of 568 women who had developed localized breast cancer before menopause (ages 20-44) to 1,451 women of similar characteristics but without cancer to see if they could identify any dietary variables associated with a greater or reduced risk of breast cancer. This study found no consistent relationship between dietary fat, the type of fat or total calorie intake and the development of breast cancer in younger women. The ratio of macronutrients was also not different in those who had breast cancer and those who did not. However, the women with breast cancer were more likely to eat more sweets. They found that the 25% of women who ate the most sweets were 53% more likely to have breast cancer than the 25% of women who consumed the least amount of sweets. This relationship was somewhat stronger for the women with breast cancer who had a relative with breast cancer.1 Several earlier studies have also found an association between the consumption of more sweet foods such as soft drinks, pastries, candy and desserts with an elevated risk of breast cancer.

Bottom Line: More research is clearly needed to determine if sweet foods, or some component of sweet foods, do promote the development of breast cancer. In the meantime, it seems prudent for women with a family history of breast cancer to cut back on sweets. Certainly there is no harm in consuming fewer soft drinks, candies, pastries and desserts and this study provides yet more reason for concern with the heavy intake of these foods.


1. Cancer Causes Control 2002;13:937-46

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