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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Nov;11(11):1353-60.

Serum fatty acids and risk of breast cancer in a nested case-control study of the New York University Women's Health Study.

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International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon Cedex 08, France.


Migrant and experimental animal studies suggest that differences in breast cancer incidence rates may be related, in part, to intake of dietary fat. The experimental evidence indicates that total fat, saturated, and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may stimulate both mammary tumor growth and metastasis, whereas n-3 PUFAs may have a tumor-inhibiting effect. Overall, epidemiological studies do not appear to confirm such observations. Within a cohort of women in the New York University Women's Health Study, the fatty acid composition of serum phospholipids was analyzed by gas chromatography among 197 pre- and postmenopausal clinically identified breast cancer subjects and their matched controls. Individual fatty acids in serum phospholipids were expressed as a percentage of total fatty acids. No significant difference was observed in the proportion of saturated fatty acids (SFAs), monounsaturated fatty acids, or n-6 and n-3 PUFAs between cases and controls. After menopause, total SFAs were positively associated with the risk of breast cancer [odds ratio (OR) = 1.96, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.73-5.25; P = 0.05] after adjustment for potential confounding factors. Myristc acid (C14:0) was suggestive of a small increase in breast cancer risk in premenopausal women (OR = 2.22, 95% CI: 0.78-6.31), whereas palmitic acid (C16:0) showed similar trends in postmenopausal women (OR = 2.57, 95% CI: 0.99-6.61). Overall, total PUFAs (n-6 and n-3) were suggestive of a small protective effect (OR = 0.59, 95% CI: 0.31-1.09). No significant associations were found between other fatty acids and the risk of breast cancer. The study suggested evidence of an association between serum levels of SFAs and the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Neither individual n-3 fatty acids of marine origin, eicosapentaenoic acid (C20:5 n-3), and docosahexaenoic acid (C22:6 n-3), nor n-6 PUFAs were related to cancer risk in this study.

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