Lifetime grain consumption and breast cancer risk


We evaluated individual grain-containing foods and whole and refined grain intake during adolescence, early adulthood, and premenopausal years in relation to breast cancer risk in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Grain-containing food intakes were reported on a baseline dietary questionnaire (1991) and every 4 years thereafter. Among 90,516 premenopausal women aged 27–44 years, we prospectively identified 3235 invasive breast cancer cases during follow-up to 2013. 44,263 women reported their diet during high school, and from 1998 to 2013, 1347 breast cancer cases were identified among these women. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to estimate relative risks (RR) and 95 % confidence intervals (95 % CI) of breast cancer for individual, whole and refined grain foods. After adjusting for known breast cancer risk factors, adult intake of whole grain foods was associated with lower premenopausal breast cancer risk (highest vs. lowest quintile: RR 0.82; 95 % CI 0.70–0.97; P trend = 0.03), but not postmenopausal breast cancer. This association was no longer significant after further adjustment for fiber intake. The average of adolescent and early adulthood whole grain food intake was suggestively associated with lower premenopausal breast cancer risk (highest vs lowest quintile: RR 0.74; 95 % CI 0.56–0.99; P trend = 0.09). Total refined grain food intake was not associated with risk of breast cancer. Most individual grain-containing foods were not associated with breast cancer risk. The exceptions were adult brown rice which was associated with lower risk of overall and premenopausal breast cancer (for each 2 servings/week: RR 0.94; 95 % CI 0.89–0.99 and RR 0.91; 95 % CI 0.85–0.99, respectively) and adult white bread intake which was associated with increased overall breast cancer risk (for each 2 servings/week: RR 1.02; 95 % CI 1.01–1.04), as well as breast cancer before and after menopause. Further, pasta intake was inversely associated with overall breast cancer risk. Our results suggest that high whole grain food intake may be associated with lower breast cancer risk before menopause. Fiber in whole grain foods may mediate the association with whole grains.

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The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health Grants (R01 CA050385, UM1 CA176726) and a grant from The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The study sponsors were not involved in the study design and collection, analysis and interpretation of data, or the writing of the article or the decision to submit it for publication. The authors were independent from study sponsors. We would like to thank the participants and staff of the NHSII for their valuable contributions as well as the following state cancer registries for their help: AL, AZ, AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, NE, NH, NJ, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, WA, WY. The authors’ responsibility were as follows: MSF, EC, WYC, AHE, and WCW designed the research; MSF performed the analysis and wrote the manuscript; MSF and WCW had primary responsibility for the final content of the manuscript; and all authors provided critical input in the writing of the manuscript and read and approved the final manuscript. The authors assume full responsibility for analyses and interpretation of these data.

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Correspondence to Maryam S. Farvid.

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Farvid, M.S., Cho, E., Eliassen, A.H. et al. Lifetime grain consumption and breast cancer risk. Breast Cancer Res Treat 159, 335–345 (2016).

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  • Whole grain foods
  • Refined grain foods
  • Breast cancer