Processed Meat and the Risk for Breast Cancer: Prevention as a Primary Healthcare Strategy
In the United States, breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women at some point in their lives. While breast cancer can occur in men, it is women who are primarily at risk. Every 13 minutes, one more woman dies from breast cancer. Researchers are hoping to understand everything they can about this devastating disease with the hope of saving lives in the future. While genetic and environmental factors have been discovered, a new threat – processed meat – may play a role too.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the tissue of the breast. No one knows for sure what causes breast cancer or why some individuals get it and others do not. Certain risk factors include:
- 55 years of age or older
- Caucasian descent
- Family member who has been diagnosed with breast cancer
- Early menstruation (younger than 12)
- Late menopause (after 55)
- Mutations in the BRCA1 OR BRCA2 gene
- Dense breast tissue
- Previous diagnosis of breast cancer
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor diet
- Combined hormone replacement therapy
Treating breast cancer is a difficult process. Doctors rely on radiation, chemotherapy, and/or surgery for most patients. Every year, 252,710 women are diagnosed with the condition, and approximately 40,500 lives are claimed by it. Without a definitive cause for the disease, doctors heavily rely on understanding risk factors and utilizing preventative health screening services to detect the condition early enough for treatment. New risk factors are always being explored, and in 2017 processed meat was added to the list.
Why is Processed Meat a Risk?
The European Journal of Cancer conducted an extensive seven-year study which found that women who consumed higher amounts of processed meat (including those smoked, salted, or cured) were more likely to increase their risk for breast cancer. Consuming as little as 0.7 ounces (roughly half the size of a hot dog) daily, was enough to increase the risk for breast cancer by a staggering 21%.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why processed meats increase the odds. Researchers believe numerous factors such as heme iron (normally present in meat) and chemical compounds like nitrates, nitrites, and heterocyclic amines found in processed meats may be to blame. Scientists cannot say processed meat alone definitively causes breast cancer, but the higher rates of consumption, combined with other risk factors, appear to play a role.
What Can You Do?
Limiting intake of processed meat is always wise. Not only has it been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, it also contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, and colorectal cancer too. Unfortunately, just controlling the amount of processed meat you eat cannot guarantee that you will avoid breast cancer in the future. Utilizing a primary healthcare strategy like those offered through health screening services is key to staying on top of your health.
Luckily, you do not have to wait until your next doctor’s appointment to understand your breast cancer risk. Taking advantage of health fairs, especially those specifically geared towards breast cancer awareness, can provide you with vital information about this condition. Likewise, mobile health services, including those that offer onsite mammograms, can bring the laboratory to you. Do not forget that activate participation in health and wellness programs can also combat many of the risk factors, such as obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet, which have also been linked to breast cancer.
Breast cancer is a devastating illness, and while we cannot control who will be diagnosed, research and a strong primary healthcare strategy can make all the difference in outcomes. The new link found between processed meats and breast cancer is another tool that helps decrease the odds of suffering from this disease, and it will be most effective when combined with other strategies to limit the impact of risk factors.