Does milk cause cancer?
There has been a lot of confusing information in the papers recently about milk and cancer. Does milk cause cancer?
The answer to this question is not simple so it is easy to see how you might be confused.
Researchers and doctors all agree that diet and cancer are closely linked. And eating a well balanced diet can help to reduce the risk of cancer. What is more difficult to say is exactly which foods are most important in causing or reducing cancer risk. Studies investigating a link between cancer and dairy products have not given clear results. Some research shows an increase in the risk of developing cancer, and some shows a decrease.
Recent research shows that a higher intake of calcium (which is found in dairy products) can protect against bowel cancer. But some research suggests there could be a link between dairy intake and the risk of developing prostate and ovarian cancers. For breast cancer the evidence is conflicting. A link between breast cancer and dairy products has been suggested, possibly because of the type of fats they contain, or contaminants that could be present in these foods. But there is no clear evidence to support this. Another theory is that dairy products might help to protect against breast cancer but this is not backed up by firm evidence. At the moment the research does not support a strong link between breast cancer risk and intake of milk and dairy products.
So, we need further research to find out more about the links between dairy products and cancer risk. A large European study called EPIC (The European Prospective Investigation of Cancer) is currently looking at the relationship between diet, lifestyle and cancer. It is producing a series of reports on diet and lifestyle and a variety of cancers over the next 10 to 20 years. It started with bowel cancer and breast cancer. If you would like to keep up to date with the findings from the EPIC study you can look on line at the EPIC website.
At the moment, doctors and nutritionists recommend a healthy, well balanced diet. Calcium should be part of that diet, and milk is an important source of calcium. A healthy diet should also be high in fibre and include at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day. It is best to avoid smoking and to limit your alcohol intake. For more information about healthy living see Cancer Research UK’s News and resources website.
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