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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Breast Cancer Research > Table 16: Dairy products and breast cancer risk

  


Table 16: Dairy products and breast cancer risk

This summary table contains detailed information about research studies. Summary tables offer an informative look at the science behind many breast cancer guidelines and recommendations. However, they should be viewed with some caution. In order to read and interpret research tables successfully, it is important to understand some key concepts. Learn how to read a research table.

Introduction: Dairy products are under study as a factor that may:

  • Increase the risk of breast cancer
  • Decrease the risk of breast cancer

Some researchers have suggested that the high fat content of many dairy products or traces of growth hormones in milk may increase breast cancer risk [1,2]. Others have studied whether the calcium and vitamin D in dairy products may lower breast cancer risk [3].

pooled analysis of data from more than 20 studies found no link between dairy product intake (including milk, cheese and yogurt) and breast cancer risk [4]. However, data from the Nurses' Health Study II found that women who ate two or more servings of high-fat dairy products (like whole milk or butter) every day had a higher risk of premenopausal breast cancer [5].

At this time, it appears unlikely that eating or drinking dairy products is linked to postmenopausal breast cancer risk. However, more research is needed to draw solid conclusions about a possible link with premenopausal breast cancer risk.

Learn more about dairy products and breast cancer risk.

Learn about the strengths and weaknesses of different types of studies

See how this risk factor compares with other risk factors for breast cancer. 

Study selection criteria: Prospective cohort studies with at least 450 breast cancer cases, pooled analyses and meta-analyses.  

Table note: Relative risk above 1 indicates increased risk. Relative risk below 1 indicates decreased risk.

Study 

Study Population
(number of participants)
 

Follow-up
(years)
 

Type of Dairy Product 

Relative Risk of Breast Cancer for Women with the Highest Dairy Intake versus Women with the Lowest Intake,
RR (95% CI)
 

Premenopausal 

Postmenopausal 

Prospective cohort studies 

EPIC Cohort [6] 

319,826
(7,119 cases)

9

Total milk:
439 g/day vs.
none

1.00
(0.85-1.18)

1.09
(0.98-1.22)

     

Whole milk:
150 g/day vs.
none

1.04
(0.89-1.22)

1.03
(0.92-1.16)

     

Cheese:
82 vs.
6 g/day

0.97
(0.82-1.15)

0.96
(0.86-1.08)

     

Butter:
13 g/day vs.
none

1.28
(1.06-1.53)

1.02
(0.91-1.13)

Nurses Health Study [7]

88,691
(3,482 cases)

16

 Dairy products:
3 or more vs.
1 or fewer servings/day

0.80
(0.63-1.03)

0.97
(0.85-1.12)

     

Milk:
At least one glass/day vs.
3 or fewer glasses/month

0.73
(0.56-0.94)

1.01
(0.87-1.17)

Cancer Prevention Study II [8]

68,567
(2,855 cases)

8-9

 Dairy products:
3 or more vs.
less than 1/2 serving/day

 

0.81
(0.69-0.96)* 

     

 Milk:
3 or more servings/day vs.
none

 

0.88
(0.76-1.02)

Norwegian Women and Cancer Study [9]

64,904
(1,407 cases) 

9

 Dairy products:
324 g or more vs. fewer than 107 g/day

1.07
(0.69-1.65)

1.01
(0.83-1.23)

     

Milk:
270 g or more vs. fewer than 49 g/day 

1.23
(0.78-1.94)

1.03
(0.85-1.25)

Black Women's Health Study [10]

52,062
(1,268 cases)  

12

Milk: 
143 g/day or more vs.
none

1.24
(0.74-2.08)

1.00
(0.60-1.67)

Women's Health Study [3]

31,487
(1,019 cases)

10

 Dairy products:
3 or more vs.
fewer than 1 serving/day
 

0.64
(0.42-0.95)

1.07
(0.82-1.39)

Netherlands Cohort Study [11]

 62,573
(941 cases)

6

 Milk and milk products:
Average 2.4 vs.
fewer than 1 glass/day

 

0.91
(0.67-1.24)

Nurses Health Study II [5,12]

90,655
(714 cases)

8

 Dairy foods:
Average of 4 vs.
0.7 servings/day

1.03
(0.79-1.36)

 
     

Low-fat dairy foods:
Average of 2.8 vs.
0.2 servings/day

 0.82
(0.63-1.06)

 
     

High-fat dairy foods:
Average of 2.2 vs.
0.2 servings/day

1.36
(1.03-1.75)

 
 

39,268
(455 cases)

8

 Total dairy products during adolescence:
Highest vs. lowest

0.90
(0.64-1.27)

 
     

High-fat dairy products during adolescence:
Highest vs. lowest

0.95
(0.68-1.35)

 
     

 Milk during adolescence:
Highest vs. lowest

0.98
(0.71-1.34)

 

Malmö Diet and Cancer cohort [13]

15,773
(544 cases)

10

Whole milk:
Highest vs. lowest

 

0.65
(0.48-0.88)

     

Low-fat milk:
Highest vs. lowest

 

1.07
(0.85-1.35)

Pooled and meta-analyses 

Dong et al. [14]

10 studies

10 

Dairy foods

0.79
(0.63-0.99)

0.92
(0.83-1.01)

     

Milk

0.79
(0.60-1.02)

1.01
(0.94-1.09)

Missmer et al. [4]

351,041
(7,379 cases)

up to 15

Dairy fluids

0.96
(0.90-1.02)

1.00
(0.98-1.01)

     

Dairy solids

0.87
(0.68-1.11)

1.05
(0.94-1.16)

 * Results were similar when high- and low-fat dairy products were examined separately.

† Median years of follow-up among the studies.

 

References 

  1. Moorman PG, Terry PD. Consumption of dairy products and the risk of breast cancer: a review of the literature. Am J Clin Nutr. 80:5-14, 2004.
  2. Ganmaa D, Sato A. The possible role of female sex hormones in milk from pregnant cows in the development of breast, ovarian and corpus uteri cancers. Med Hypotheses. 65:1028-37, 2005.
  3. Lin J, Manson JE, Lee IM, Cook NR, Buring JE, Zhang SM. Intakes of calcium and vitamin D and breast cancer risk in women. Arch Intern Med. 167(10):1050-9, 2007.
  4. Missmer SA, Smith-Warner S-A, Spiegelman D, et al. Meat and dairy food consumption and breast cancer: a pooled analysis of cohort studies. Int J Epidemiol. 31(1):78-85, 2002.
  5. Cho E, Spiegelman D, Hunter DJ, et al. Premenopausal fat intake and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 95(14):1079-85, 2003.
  6. Pala V, Krogh V, Berrino F, et al. Meat, eggs, dairy products, and risk of breast cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 90(3):602-12, 2009.
  7. Shin MH, Holmes MD, Hankinson SE, Wu K, Colditz GA, Willett WC. Intake of dairy products, calcium, and vitamin D and risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 94(17):1301-11, 2002.
  8. McCullough ML, Rodriguez C, Diver WR, et al. Dairy, calcium, and vitamin D intake and postmenopausal breast cancer risk in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 14(12):2898-904, 2005.
  9. Hjartåker A, Thoresen M, Engeset D, Lund E. Dairy consumption and calcium intake and risk of breast cancer in a prospective cohort: the Norwegian Women and Cancer study. Cancer Causes Control. 21(11):1875-85, 2010.
  10. Genkinger JM, Makambi KH, Palmer JR, Rosenberg L, Adams-Campbell LL. Consumption of dairy and meat in relation to breast cancer risk in the Black Women's Health Study. Cancer Causes Control. 24(4):675-84, 2013.
  11. Voorrips LE, Brants HAM, Kardinaal AFM, Hiddink GJ, van den Brandt PA, Goldbohm RA. Intake of conjugated linoleic acid, fat, and other fatty acids in relation to postmenopausal breast cancer: the Netherlands Cohort Study on Diet and Cancer. Am J Clin Nutr. 76(4):873-82, 2002.
  12. Linos E, Willett WC, Cho E, Frazier L. Adolescent diet in relation to breast cancer risk among premenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 19(3):689-96, 2010.
  13. Wirfält E, Li C, Manjer J, et al. Food sources of fat and sex hormone receptor status of invasive breast tumors in women of the Malmö Diet and Cancer cohort. Nutr Cancer. 63(5):722-33, 2011. 
  14. Dong JY, Zhang L, He K, Qin LQ. Dairy consumption and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 127(1):23-31, 2011.

Updated 08/28/13