Breast cancer

08 April 2014

Colourful fruit and veg may lower breast cancer risk

According to a study, colourful fruits and vegetables may lower teenage girls' risk of developing breast cancer later in life.


Teenage girls who eat more colourful fruits and vegetables are less likely to develop benign breast disease as young adults, according to a new study.

Benign breast disease, or a group of lumps that can develop during adolescence or young adulthood, is not in itself dangerous.

But benign breast disease does increase the risk of breast cancer later in life, the authors of the new study write.

Read: Fruit and vegetables help you live longer

Seeing the same association between certain antioxidants and benign breast disease among teen girls as has been seen for breast cancer among adults is exciting, Caroline E. Boeke said. She worked on the study at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston."Consumption of these vegetables might be a way to prevent benign breast disease," Boeke said.

However, she noted that this is an observational study, and can't prove veggies ward off the disease.

'Connecting the dots'

So-called carotenoids give red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their colour. Some previous studies have found that women who eat a lot of them have a lower risk of breast cancer.

This study sought to "connect the dots" between eating colourful veggies as a teenager, when breast tissue is still developing, and having benign breast disease a decade later, which itself increases the risk for breast cancer in middle age, Boeke said.

Women who have benign breast disease are between one and a half and two times more likely to develop breast cancer than women without it, she told Reuters Health.

Read: Timing is everything when eating fruits, vegetables

For the study, 6 500 girls filled out dietary questionnaires once a year for three years, starting when they were about 12 years old. Between nine and 14 years later, the young women filled out questionnaires about whether they had been diagnosed with benign breast disease.

The researchers divided the girls into four groups based on how many carotenoid-rich foods they ate as teens.

Impressive reduction

They found the group that ate the least amount of beta-carotene – a common type of carotenoid – was almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with benign breast disease as girls who ate the most, according to results published in Paediatrics.

"If there were a 50% reduction it would be impressive," Cynthia Thomson told Reuters Health in an email. "But I am cautious not to over interpret these results. "In total only 122 women in the study developed benign breast disease.

Fruit and Veg from Shutterstock

Read more:

Teens don't eat enough fruit and vegetables
Fruit, veg may prevent breast cancer
Fruit, veg lower breast cancer risk


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Ask the Expert

Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

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