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BMC Public Health. 2017 Oct 10;17(1):800. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4819-1.

Is vegetarian diet associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in Taiwanese women?

Author information

School of Medicine, Buddhist Tzu Chi University, Hualien, Taiwan.
Department of Surgery, Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, New Taipei City, Taiwan.
Division of Nutrition, Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, Buddhist Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, New Taipei City, Taiwan.
Graduate Institute of Health Policy and Management, College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan.
Department of Ophthalmology, Heping Branch, Taipei City Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan.
Department of General Surgery, Zhongxing Branch, Taipei City Hospital, No.145, Zhengzhou Rd., Datong District, Taipei, Taiwan.
Department of General Surgery, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan.



Studies on the relationship between vegetarian diet and breast cancer in Asian populations are limited. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between vegetarian diet, dietary patterns, and breast cancer in Taiwanese women.


This case-control study compared the dietary patterns of 233 breast cancer patients and 236 age-matched controls. A questionnaire about vegetarian diets and 28 frequently-consumed food items was administered to these 469 patients in the surgical department of Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital. Serum biochemical status was also examined.


There were no significant differences between the two groups for age, education, family history, oral contraceptive usage, or regular exercise. However, the cancer group presented with both a higher body mass index and an older age of primiparity (P < 0.05). Two food items (shellfish and seafood) were highly correlated (correlation coefficient = 0.77), so shellfish was excluded to avoid multicollinearity. A factor analysis of 27 food items produced five dietary patterns: meat, processed meat, fruit/vegetable/soybean, dessert/sugar, and fermented food. Multivariate logistic regression showed that meat/fat and processed meat dietary patterns were associated with breast cancer risk (odds ratio (OR): 2.22, 95% CI 1.67-2.94, P < 0.001; OR: 1.49, 95% CI 1.09-2.04, P = 0.013, respectively). Vegetarian diet, high isoflavone intake, and high albumin levels were inversely associated with breast cancer risk (P < 0.05). Vegetarians had a higher daily soy isoflavone intake than non-vegetarians (25.9 ± 25.6 mg vs. 18.1 ± 15.6 mg, P < 0.001).


Vegetarian diets show as protective role against breast cancer risk, while meat and processed meat dietary patterns are associated with a higher breast cancer risk.


Breast cancer risk; Dietary pattern; Isoflavones; Vegetarian diet

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