Teenage girls who consume high amounts of saturated fats or low amounts of ideal mono and polyunsaturated fats tend to have denser breasts, which can increase their breast cancer risk later on, a new study warned.

Saturated fats are found primarily in meat, butter, cheese and other dairy foods, while unsaturated ones are abundant in avocados, nuts and seeds, and vegetable oils.

"Appropriate dietary modifications during adolescence may potentially contribute to lowering breast density and possibly breast cancer risk as well as preventing chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease," said study lead author and University of Maryland postdoctoral fellow Seungyoun Jung.

The researchers studied 177 girls ages 10 to 18, mostly Caucasians and part of the Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC). They then measured breast density via MRI scanning when the participants reached 25 to 29 years old.

Those who reported consuming higher amounts of saturated fats and lower unsaturated fats during their adolescent years had higher breast density volume 15 years later, although the difference in percent were deemed modest. Average volume in women in the lowest quarter for saturated fat consumption was 16.4 percent, versus the 21.5 percent for those in the highest quarter.

“Whether this will then be related to an increase in breast cancer later in life, we don’t know,” clarified senior author Dr. Joanne Dorgan in an NYT report. “But breast density itself is associated with increased risk.”

The team seeks to confirm their observational data findings through additional research on a larger, more racially diverse population.

Breast density is the proportion of glandular breast tissue to fatty tissue, a factor that leads breast cancer risk to increase as it also goes up. A meta-analysis in 2006 showed that those with the densest breasts had about four times greater breast cancer risk compared with their counterparts with the least dense breasts.

Breast tissue, however, can be especially sensitive to different influences during adolescence as it’s a time for change and development, added Dorgan.

Reviewing the results, Dr. Laura Kruper of City of Hope Cancer Center in California noted several study limitations, including dependence on dietary self-reporting and the relatively small number of participants.

It is unclear whether breast density at age 25 will persist into one's 40s and 50s, and the initial research needs to be confirmed before crafting dietary recommendations, she explained.

The findings were published May 19 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

A separate study this month found that teenage girls who consume plenty of fruits have a lower risk of getting breast cancer, while those who have had high alcohol intake over time likely upped their risk.

Photo: Leanne Lark | Flickr

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