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HEALTH REPORT — August 27, 2003: Animal Fats and  Breast Cancer - 2003-08-26

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

The World Health Organization says more than one-million people this year will discover they have breast cancer. A new study suggests that young women who eat a lot of animal fat may increase their risk.

Researchers at Harvard University near Boston, Massachusetts, published the findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. They studied the health information of more than ninety-thousand women. These women were involved in the Nurses Health Study. They were between the ages of twenty-six and forty-six.

The information was collected during the nineteen-nineties. Every two years, the researchers questioned the women about the foods they ate. Seven-hundred-fourteen of the women developed breast cancer during the eight years of the study.

Here is what the researchers found: The women at highest risk were the ones who ate more red meat, cheese, ice cream and butter during their twenties, thirties and forties. Those who ate the most fat had a thirty-three percent greater chance of breast cancer than those who ate the least fat.

The women with the greatest danger of developing breast cancer got twenty-three percent of their calories from animal fat. Those in the lowest risk group got only twelve percent of their calories from fat.

Breast cancer can take years to develop. Experts say it is usually discovered at an age when a woman can no longer have children. This new study involved women still of child-bearing age. It showed that food eaten early in life may have an influence on the development of disease later on.

The researchers said they hope the study will get more women to eat healthier foods earlier in their lives. But they said the study does not prove that animal fat causes cancer.

Still, doctors think fat does increase levels of hormones like estrogen in the blood. Last week the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported the findings of another study involving weight and breast cancer.

This study showed a much higher risk of breast cancer in older women who are severely overweight compared to those of normal weight. The researchers found that the cancer risk, and levels of estrogen in the blood, increased the more the women weighed.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.