- WASHINGTON (AP) -- Women who eat beef and bacon cooked until very well done
rather than rare or medium have a four times greater risk of developing
breast cancer, a study says.
- Yet experts said Tuesday there is still
too much uncertainty to recommend changes in cooking habits.
- Undercooked meat can pose a proven and
well-known health risk, they noted.
- "We have found a link between well-done
meat and breast cancer, but we are still not sure of the cause," said
Dr. Wei Zheng of the University of North Carolina. "This is just one
study. It is too early to jump to a final conclusion."
- Other researchers said Zheng's study,
to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute,
"is intriguing," but not conclusive. They said more research
- "No single study should be the basis
for changing public policy," said Kathleen M. Egan, an epidemiologist
at Harvard University and at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
- The links between diet and cancer are
a hot subject of medical research, but many scientists believe there are
few definitive answers yet. They recommend fruits and vegetables and avoiding
obesity but generally say no diet has been proven to prevent breast cancer.
- Cooking meat at a high temperature, either
by frying or grilling, has long been known to cause the production of a
chemical compound called heterocyclic amines -- previously shown to cause
cancer, Zheng noted.
- "Charred meat has a high level of
these compounds," he said. That is also true of fish and chicken cooked
at high temperatures, although the study did not examine those.
- Zheng and colleagues based their findings
on the meat-eating habits of 273 women with breast cancer compared to 657
women without cancer.
- To determine their meat-eating habits,
the women were shown color photos of hamburger, bacon and beefsteak cooked
to various levels of doneness. The women then picked out the meat picture
that most closely matched their routine meat preparation and consumption
- Many women had different preferences,
depending on the type of meat. To analyze that, Zheng said he created what
he called a "doneness score."
- Women who ate all three types of meat
cooked either rare or medium were given a score of 3. Those who preferred
all three meats cooked very well done were given scores of 9. When the
preferences varied, there were scores in between the two extremes. The
vast majority preferred bacon well done or very well done, while rare or
medium was the most popular choice for steak and hamburger.
- Among women who preferred all meat very
well done, with a doneness scores of 9, there was a 462 percent greater
chance of having breast cancer when compared with women who ate rare or
- For very well done hamburger and bacon,
the risks were 50 to 70 percent greater. The risks were 220 percent greater
for very well done beefsteak, Zheng said.
- The study was adjusted for other factors
linked to breast cancer, such as obesity, family history and whether the
woman had undergone hormone replacement therapy.
- Dr. Christine Ambrosone of the National
Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Ark., said Zheng's findings
"are consistent with what we have found in the laboratory."
- Lab studies have linked cancer with some
chemicals created when meat is cooked at high temperatures, she said. Some
studies, using nursing mice, have shown that heterocyclic amines are present
in breast milk. But she cautioned against applying this laboratory data
- "It is too early" to draw conclusions,
Egan said. "The public needs to stay tuned."
- Right now, people should be more concerned
about health risks from undercooked meats, Egan and Zheng both said. There
have been a number of recent incidents of bacteria infection caused by
eating undercooked hamburger.
- Zheng's solution: Boiling, steaming or
baking meat until it is thoroughly cooked, but not charred or overly done.
- "Moderate cooking would be OK,"