Red and processed meat consumption and breast cancer: UK Biobank cohort study and meta-analysis

Published:December 21, 2017DOI:


      • Consumption of processed meat may increase the risk of breast cancer in the UK Biobank.
      • Updated meta-analysis confirms findings of carcinogenic risk of processed meat.
      • Red meat was not found to be associated with the risk of breast cancer in the study.



      Red and processed meat may be risk factors for breast cancer due to their iron content, administration of oestrogens to cattle or mutagens created during cooking. We studied the associations in UK Biobank and then included the results in a meta-analysis of published cohort studies.


      UK Biobank, a general population cohort study, recruited participants aged 40–69 years. Incident breast cancer was ascertained via linkage to routine hospital admission, cancer registry and death certificate data. Univariate and multivariable Cox proportional hazard models were used to explore the associations between red and processed meat consumption and breast cancer. Previously published cohort studies were identified from a systematic review using PubMed and Ovid and a meta-analysis conducted using a random effects model.


      Over a median of 7 years follow-up, 4819 of the 262,195 women developed breast cancer. The risk was increased in the highest tertile (>9 g/day) of processed meat consumption (adjusted hazard ratio [HR] 1.21, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.08–1.35, p = 0.001). Collation with 10 previous cohort studies provided data on 40,257 incident breast cancers in 1.65 million women. On meta-analysis, processed meat consumption was associated with overall (relative risk [RR] 1.06, 95% CI 1.01–1.11) and post-menopausal (RR 1.09, 95% CI 1.03–1.15), but not pre-menopausal (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.88–1.10), breast cancer. In UK Biobank and the meta-analysis, red meat consumption was not associated with breast cancer (adjusted HR 0.99 95% CI 0.88–1.12 and RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.99–1.08, respectively).


      Consumption of processed meat, but not red meat, may increase the risk of breast cancer.


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