The relationship between meat consumption and breast cancer has been the focus of several epidemiological investigations, yet there has been no clear scientific consensus as to whether red or processed meat intake increases the risk of breast cancer. We conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis incorporating data from several recently published prospective studies of red or processed meat intake and breast cancer. In the meta-analysis utilising data from the Pooling Project publication (includes data from eight cohorts) combined with data from nine studies published between 2004 and 2009 and one study published in 1996, the fixed-effect summary relative risk estimate (SRRE) for red meat intake (high v. low) and breast cancer was 1·02 (95 % CI 0·98, 1·07; P value for heterogeneity = 0·001) and the random-effects SRRE was 1·07 (95 % CI 0·98, 1·17). The SRRE for each 100 g increment of red meat was 1·04 (95 % CI 1·00, 1·07), based on a fixed-effects model, and 1·12 (95 % CI 1·03, 1·23) based on a random-effects model. No association was observed for each 100 g increment of red meat among premenopausal women (SRRE 1·01; 95 % CI 0·92, 1·11) but a statistically significant SRRE of 1·22 (95 % CI 1·04, 1·44) was observed among postmenopausal women using a random-effects model. However, the association for postmenopausal women was attenuated and non-significant when using a fixed-effects model (SRRE 1·03; 95 % CI 0·98, 1·08). The fixed- and random-effect SRRE for high (v. low) processed meat intake and breast cancer were 1·00 (95 % CI 0·98, 1·01; P value for heterogeneity = 0·005) and 1·08 (95 % CI 1·01, 1·16), respectively. The fixed- and random-effect SRRE for each 30 g increment of processed meat were 1·03 (95 % CI 1·00, 1·06) and 1·06 (95 % CI 0·99, 1·14), respectively. Overall, weak positive summary associations were observed across all meta-analysis models, with the majority being non-statistically significant. Heterogeneity was evident in most analyses, summary associations were sensitive to the choice of analytical model (fixed v. random effects), and publication bias appeared to have produced slightly elevated summary associations. On the basis of this quantitative assessment, red meat and processed meat intake does not appear to be independently associated with increasing the risk of breast cancer, although further investigations of potential effect modifiers, such as analyses by hormone receptor status, may provide valuable insight to potential patterns of associations.
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