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Research Center

Cow's Milk and Breast Cancer

04/01/2002

Question:

In his book, "Milk, A-Z", Robert Cohen lists 8 scientific studies which all say that insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is a significant stimulator of human breast cancer cells. One study points out that cow`s milk drinkers have 10% more IGF-1 in serum than do abstainers. It appears that drinking cow`s milk accelerates the growth of breast cancer cells. Do you agree?

Answer:

Thank you for your patience in waiting for me to research your question. From the information I was able to gather, I would say that there is not convincing evidence from the scientific literature to back the claim that cow's milk accelerates the growth of breast cancer cells. Current research appears to be focused on looking at the drug tamoxifen and its role in preventing breast cancer in women who are at risk (the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial funded by the National Cancer Institute includes 13,388 women ages 35 and older). As for dietary influences, an article titled "Diet and Cancer Risk" by Clifford C. et. al states "… it has been estimated that 35 percent of cancer deaths may be related to dietary factors. The recommendations for dietary change currently before the American public are based on years of scientific research and offer potential for an effective public health approach to cancer prevention. Currently available research shows that diets low in fat and high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and grain products are associated with reduced risks for many cancers." In regard specifically to milk, it is a highly nutritious food providing the calcium we need to support our bone health and, hopefully, ward off osteoporosis. Selecting non-fat milk and dairy products would be in line with cancer prevention recommendations. It is also interesting to note that research in the September 15, 2001 issue of The International Journal of Cancer shows that dairy products may actually protect against breast cancer. For more information on dairy products and prevention of breast cancer please check the website referenced below.

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Response by:

Jane   Korsberg, MS, RD, LD Jane Korsberg, MS, RD, LD
Senior Instructor of Nutrition
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University