BACKGROUND: Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death (after heart disease) among women in the United States, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths (after lung cancer) worldwide. A variety of factors influence the risk of breast cancer, including age, smoking, alcohol consumption, and diet. Studies have found that eating foods rich in antioxidant carotenoids may reduce the risk of breast cancer and other types of cancer as well.
RESEARCH: Researchers analyzed the dietary habits of 414 women with breast cancer and 429 healthy subjects to evaluate the influence of carotenoids and essential fatty acids on breast cancer risk. All of the women were French Canadians in Montreal, a relatively homogenous (or genetically and culturally related) group.
RESULTS: Several dietary and lifestyle patterns influenced the risk of breast cancer. In women who had never used hormone-replacement therapy, high intake of beta-carotene was associated with a 43 percent lower risk of breast cancer. In contrast, in premenopausal women who ever smoked, the highest intakes of alpha-carotene were associated with a 140 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Breast cancer risk also was affected by an interaction among intakes of carotenoids and essential fatty acids. For example, in postmenopausal women, the combined high intake of carotenoids and omega-3 fats (found in fish) was associated with a 48 percent lower risk of breast cancer. However, postmenopausal women who had a high intake of carotenoids and omega-6 fats (found in many processed foods) had a 92 percent higher risk of cancer.
IMPLICATIONS: The researchers concluded that a high intake of total carotenoids and omega-3 fats (specifically docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA) may reduce the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Other studies have also suggested that diets rich in carotenoids and omega-3 fats may reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Nkondjock A, Ghadirian P. Intake of specific carotenoids and essential fatty acids and breast cancer risk in Montreal, Canada. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004;79:857-864.
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