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Inflammatory potential of the diet and risk of breast cancer in the European Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study


The role of chronic inflammation on breast cancer (BC) risk remains unclear beyond as an underlying mechanism of obesity and physical activity. We aimed to evaluate the association between the inflammatory potential of the diet and risk of BC overall, according to menopausal status and tumour subtypes. Within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort, 318,686 women were followed for 14 years, among whom 13,246 incident BC cases were identified. The inflammatory potential of the diet was characterized by an inflammatory score of the diet (ISD). Multivariable Cox regression models were used to assess the potential effect of the ISD on BC risk by means of hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI). ISD was positively associated with BC risk. Each increase of one standard deviation (1-Sd) of the score increased by 4% the risk of BC (HR = 1.04; 95% CI 1.01–1.07). Women in the highest quintile of the ISD (indicating a most pro-inflammatory diet) had a 12% increase in risk compared with those in the lowest quintile (HR = 1.12; 95% CI 1.04–1.21) with a significant trend. The association was strongest among premenopausal women, with an 8% increased risk for 1-Sd increase in the score (HR = 1.08; 95% CI 1.01–1.14). The pattern of the association was quite homogeneous by BC subtypes based on hormone receptor status. There were no significant interactions between ISD and body mass index, physical activity, or alcohol consumption. Women consuming more pro-inflammatory diets as measured by ISD are at increased risk for BC, especially premenopausal women.

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Breast cancer


Body mass index


Confidence interval


Dietary inflammatory index


European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition


Estrogen receptor


Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2


Hazard ratio


International agency for research on cancer


International classification of diseases for oncology


Inflammatory score of the diet


Likelihood ratio


Progesterone receptor


Standard deviation


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We thank CERCA Programme/Generalitat de Catalunya for institutional support. We also thank the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, the Netherlands, for their contribution and ongoing support to the EPIC Study.


This work was funded by Instituto de Salud Carlos III through the project PI15/00639 (Co-funded by European Regional Development Fund [ERDF], a way to build Europe). C. Castro-Espin was funded by Instituto de Salud Carlos III through the Grant FI19/00197 (Co-funded by European Social Fund. ESF investing in your future). The coordination of EPIC is financially supported by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and also by the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Imperial College London which has additional infrastructure support provided by the NIHR Imperial Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). The national cohorts are supported by: Danish Cancer Society (Denmark); Ligue Contre le Cancer, Institut Gustave Roussy, Mutuelle Générale de l’Education Nationale, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) (France); German Cancer Aid, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke (DIfE), Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) (Germany); Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro-AIRC-Italy, Compagnia di SanPaolo and National Research Council (Italy); Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sports (VWS), Netherlands Cancer Registry (NKR), LK Research Funds, Dutch Prevention Funds, Dutch ZON (Zorg Onderzoek Nederland), World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), Statistics Netherlands (The Netherlands); Health Research Fund (FIS)—Instituto de Salud Carlos III (ISCIII), Regional Governments of Andalucía, Asturias, Basque Country, Murcia and Navarra, and the Catalan Institute of Oncology—ICO (Spain); Swedish Cancer Society, Swedish Research Council and County Councils of Skåne and Västerbotten (Sweden); Cancer Research UK (14136 to EPIC-Norfolk; C8221/A29017 to EPIC-Oxford), Medical Research Council (1000143 to EPIC-Norfolk; MR/M012190/1 to EPIC-Oxford) (United Kingdom). The funders of this study had no role in the decisions about the analysis or interpretation of the data; or preparation, review or approval of the manuscript.

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Castro-Espin, C., Agudo, A., Bonet, C. et al. Inflammatory potential of the diet and risk of breast cancer in the European Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. Eur J Epidemiol 36, 953–964 (2021).

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