The findings point to a compound known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that have been already been strongly attributed to a rise in breast cancer cases.
Along with other cancer-inducing chemicals, this compound is produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at 1,508 women who had breast cancer. These women were asked about their meat intake, particularly their consumption of grilled, barbecued, and smoked meat.
After five years, these women were asked the same questions. After an average duration of 17.6 years of follow-up, 597 deaths, of which 237 were breast cancer related, were identified.
The main finding found that compared with low meat intake, a high consumption of grilled/barbecued and smoked meat before a breast cancer diagnosis was linked with a 23% increased mortality risk.
“Other associations were noted, but estimates were not statistically significant,” the study noted. “These include high prediagnosis smoked beef/lamb/pork intake and increased all-cause and breast cancer–specific mortality.
“Also, among women with continued high grilled/barbecued and smoked meat intake after diagnosis, all-cause mortality risk was elevated by 31%.”
Recent meat studies looking into its effect on health have placed meat under the health spotlight. While there is talk of risk, meat is still a rich source of iron, protein and vitamins.
In July last year, the National Food Institute (DTU) of Denmark categorised meat in a list that indicated it was ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’
Senior advisor at DTU, Heddie Mejborn told FoodNavigator that avoiding over-cooking meat could affect and mitigate the risks.
On an international scale, the WHO categorised processed meats as Group 1 carcinogenics, a more definite cancer-causing agent than Group 2a, which includes red meat.
PAHs and breast cancer
Previous research has established the link between PAHs and various forms of cancer. The compounds exist and persist in the environment exacerbated by incomplete burning of fossil fuels.
The other main source is through consumption of smoked and grilled meat and fish.
According to the WHO, breast cancer is the most common form in women, making up 28% of the total in Europe.
With the exception of Norway and Sweden, from 1950 to the late 1980s, breast-cancer mortality rose throughout Europe.
Deaths from breast cancer in Europe peaked in the 1990s, at 14.74 deaths per 100 000 population in 1994, falling to 13.01 per 100 000 in 2009.
Source: Journal of the National Cancer Institute
Published online ahead of print: doi:10.1093/jnci/djw333
“Grilled, Barbecued, and Smoked Meat Intake and Survival Following Breast Cancer.”
Authors: Humberto Parada, Jr et al.