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Folate may lower breast cancer risk for some: study

By Dagny Stuart
February 2012

A new study by investigators from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Shanghai Cancer Institute indicates that women who get adequate amounts of folate in their diet have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer, although the benefit appears linked to a woman’s menopausal status.

The study found that women who had not yet reached menopause and who had the highest average intake of folate had a 40 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer.

Martha Shrubsole, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology at Vanderbilt, is the lead author of the paper, which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in March 2011.

“In our study, it appears that folate is most protective of hormone negative, or what we call double negative, breast cancer,” said Shrubsole.
“We don’t have evidence that an extremely high intake of folate protects against breast cancer, but it appears that low folate levels may increase a premenopausal woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.”

Using data from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study in China, the investigators assessed the records of 72,861 women who enrolled in the study between 1997 and 2008. They identified 718 women who developed breast cancer during the course of the study.

After studying the data, the researchers found no link between vitamins B6 or B12 and breast cancer risk, but there was a clear protective effect with folate consumption among premenopausal women.

For the first time, the researchers also found evidence that too much niacin in the diet may be linked to an increased risk of hormone positive breast cancer. No other studies have found this effect and the authors of the study recommend further research to validate these findings.

The principal investigator for the Shanghai Women’s Health Study is Wei Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Division of Epidemiology and director of the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center.

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