It's long been thought that a high fat diet increases breast cancer risk by altering hormone levels or by causing weight gain. However, most large studies have not found a strong link between total fat intake and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.
Now, study findings reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggest that women who eat a high fat diet may indeed have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Researchers examined food frequency questionnaires from over 188,000 women as part of the National Institutes of Health AARP Diet and Health Study - a study where participants reported detailed information about their diet in the mid 1990's, for a follow up period of 4 years.
After examining the questionnaires, researchers found that women who received 40 percent of their calories from fat had a 15 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer, compared to women who received only 20 percent of their calories from fat.
Using a more detailed (and precise) 24-hour recall questionnaire, the risk was increased by 32 percent for women with higher levels of fat in the diet.
The increased risk of breast cancer associated with a high fat diet was seen for all types of dietary fat (saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). The findings seemed to be confined to women who were not receiving hormone replacement therapy at the start of the study.
Further studies are needed to examine the effects between dietary fat and breast cancer risk, and the effects of hormone replacement therapy on this risk.
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