Several factors are attributed to elevating risks for breast cancer, such as having a family history of the disease, obesity and being childless. However, it appears that protein food sources can also influence the odds of developing breast cancer.

A new study suggests that women who love to eat processed and unprocessed red meat should consider making changes to their diet as there appears to be an association between red meat intake and breast cancer risks. Eating about three slices of bacon daily, for instance, can increase a woman's likelihood of developing breast cancer by over 20 percent.

For the new study published in the BMJ on June 10, Maryam Farvid, from the Department of Nutrition of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues analyzed the data of nearly 89,000 premenopausal women between 26 and 45 years old, who were part of the Nurses' Health Study II.

The participants were surveyed on how much unprocessed red meat such as pork, lamb, beef and hamburger as well as of processed red meat such as bacons, hotdogs,  and sausages they ate everyday. They were also asked about their daily consumption of poultry, fish and legumes.

Within 20 years, 2,830 of the women developed breast cancer. The researchers observed that the participants with higher red meat intake were more likely to develop breast cancer.

Women who ate one and a half portion of red meat per day had 22 percent elevated risks for the disease than those who only ate a little or none at all. The researchers also said that eating an extra serving of red meat a day increases a woman's odds for developing breast cancer by 13 percent. One portion of red meat is about 55g or the equivalent of two slices of bacon, several slices of ham or a small steak

Health experts believe that the saturated fat found in red meat boosts cholesterol levels and this in turn causes the body to produce more of the hormone estrogen which is associated with breast cancer. The researchers said that reducing the consumption of processed meat and red meat and replacing these protein sources with a combination of those from poultry, fish, legumes and nuts may be beneficial in preventing breast cancer.

"Higher red meat intake in early adulthood may be a risk factor for breast cancer, and replacing red meat with a combination of legumes, poultry, nuts and fish may reduce the risk of breast cancer," Farvid and colleagues wrote.

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