Women who eat large amounts of grilled, smoked and barbecued meats and who develop breast cancer may be more likely to die of that cancer than those who eat less of these foods, a new study suggests.
A higher intake of barbecued, smoked or grilled meat before diagnosis was also associated with 23 percent higher odds of death from all causes, the study found.
Of the three cooking options, smoking may be the worst. Routinely eating smoked beef, lamb and pork was tied to a 17 percent greater risk of death from all causes and 23 percent higher odds of dying from breast cancer.
“There are many carcinogens found in grilled or smoked meats,” said lead study author Humberto Parada, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “One of the most common are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAH], which are formed during combustion of organic material.”
Women may be exposed to these carcinogens by cigarette smoke or air pollution, which are associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, Parada said by email. Some research has suggested exposure to these chemicals through grilled or smoked meat can increase the risk of breast cancer, but the new study offers some of the first evidence suggesting it also influences survival odds.
“Grilling or smoking meats produces PAHs much more readily than other cooking methods, such as pan-frying,” Parada said. “Several factors may influence the formation of PAHs including ‘doneness’ and meat type — higher fat content may result in the formation of more PAHs.”
For their study, researchers interviewed 1,508 women diagnosed with breast cancer about their eating habits in 1996 or 1997 and questioned them again five years later. After following half of the women for at least 17.6 years, there were 597 deaths, including 237 fatalities resulting from breast cancer.
Compared with women who consistently ate only small amounts of grilled, barbecued or smoked meat, women who consumed a lot of these foods both before and after their diagnosis were 31 percent more likely to have died during the study period, researchers report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Women who included poultry and fish in their diet before or after their diagnosis were 45 percent less likely to die during the study than women who didn’t eat these foods.