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Recent coronavirus disruptions have thrown cancer services into chaos, letting many cases go undetected. The NHS is now calling for the prompt resumption of screenings to prevent survival rates from receding over the next decade. In their bid to lower rates of the disease, academics have worked to broaden public understanding of the risk factors. One drink, in some studies, has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer by 80 percent.
One body of research funded by the National Cancer Institute and the United Kingdom’s World Cancer Research Fund raised alarm over the consumption of dairy milk.
In the North American study, researchers analysed data from a cohort of over 50,000 women covering a period of eight years.
During that period, women were asked to fill questionnaires about their dietary habits.
Half of the women in the study followed a vegetarian diet, and drank soy milk, while the others consumed dairy milk.
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The researchers adjusted for all factors influential on cancer risk, such as alcohol consumption, physical activity, hormones and reproductive history.
The experiment had been launched with the intention of determining a connection between soy consumption and breast cancer, explained Gary E. Fraser, the study’s lead author.
“While doing that, it became clear we had to make an adjustment for dairy,” he told Healthline.
Among the participants, all of whom were cancer-free at the outset of the study, 1,057 went on to develop breast cancer.
The team were unable to establish a link between soy and breast cancer, but findings pointed towards dairy milk as the culprit.
The study suggested “the drinking dairy milk daily, even in small amounts, can increase your risk of getting breast cancer by as much as 80 percent,” explained Doctor Fraser.
The professor, from the School of Public Health and Medicine at Loma Linda University, added: “We found that at relatively low doses of dairy milk, less than a cup a day, there was a steep rise in the risk of breast cancer.
“At a cup a day, we were seeing more than 50 percent increase in risk.”
“At two to three cups per day, the risk increased 70 percent to 80 percent,” Fraser told Healthline.
This effect could potentially be put down to the natural stimulants found in dairy milk that promote cell growth and division – an archetypal mechanism of cancer.
These stimulants raise levels of growth factor IGFI (insulin-like growth factor one), which are strongly implicated in breast cancer risk.
But due to the study’s observational design, it was only able to conclude a correlation between cow’s milk intake and breast cancer, instead of confirming a causal effect.
Cancer Research UK states that evidence that milk and dairy products cause breast cancer is not consistent.
“Some studies have found that dairy might increase the risk of breast cancer. Whilst others have found it may decrease breast cancer risk,” said the health body.
“We need more high-quality studies to understand whether there is a link.”
Indeed, evidence yielded in past studies has been conflicting, with some highlighting an association between dairy yoghurt and lower breast cancer risk, and others linking an increased risk of cancer with the intake of cheddar, cream cheeses.
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