High carb, high glycemic diet tied to breast cancer risk

July 30, 2012 in Cancer Prevention, Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

High carb, high glycemic diet tied to breast cancer risk

Older women who eat a lot of starchy and sweet carbohydrates may be at increased risk of a less common but deadlier form of breast cancer, according to a European study.

The findings from a study of nearly 335,000 European women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, do not prove that sweets, French fries and white bread contribute to breast cancer, but they do hint at a potential factor in a little understood form of breast cancer.

Specifically, the study found a link between high "glycemic load" and breast cancers that lack receptors for the female hormone estrogen, so-called "ER-negative" breast cancers.

A high glycemic load essentially means a diet heavy in foods that cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, such as processed foods made from white flour, white potatoes and sweets.

The study, conducted in Lyon, France, looked at nearly 335,000 women who took part in a long-running European study on nutrition factors and cancer risk.

Of these, 11,576 developed breast cancer over a dozen years. Overall, there was no link between breast cancer risk and glycemic load, as estimated from diet questionnaires the women completed at the study's start.

But the picture changed when the researchers focused on postmenopausal women with ER-negative cancer. Among women in the top 20 percent for glycemic load, there were 158 cases of breast cancer, versus 11 cases in the bottom 20 percent - a 36 percent higher risk.

ER-negative tumors account for about one-quarter of breast cancers. They typically have a poorer prognosis than ER-positive cancers because they tend to grow faster and are not sensitive to hormone-based treatments.

Diets with a high glycemic load are associated with a bigger secretion of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. High insulin levels, in turn, have been linked to certain cancers, possibly because insulin helps tumors grow.

While there is no single factor in any woman's risk of breast cancer, the findings offer more incentive to eat a balanced diet that limits refined carbohydrates and sugars.

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