There is compelling evidence that estrogens influence breast cancer risk. Since the mid-1980s, dietary fat intervention studies have been conducted to investigate the effect of fat intake on endogenous estrogen levels. To further our understanding of the possible relationship between dietary fat and breast cancer, we conducted a meta-analysis of dietary fat intervention studies that investigated serum estradiol levels, and we reviewed the nature of the evidence provided by prospective analytic studies of fat consumption and breast cancer risk.
A computerized search of the English language literature on estrogen/estradiol and dietary fat intervention studies published from January 1966 through June 1998 was conducted using the MEDLINE database. Pooled estimates were derived from the change in estradiol levels associated with fat reduction from 13 studies. Analyses were conducted separately for premenopausal and postmenopausal women and in both groups combined.
Statistically significant reductions in serum estradiol levels of -7.4% (95% confidence interval [CI] = -11.7% to -2.9%) among premenopausal women and -23.0% (95% CI = -27.7% to -18.1%) among postmenopausal women were observed, with an overall -13.4% (95% CI = -16.6% to -10.1%) reduction observed. The greatest reductions occurred in two studies in which dietary fat was reduced to 10%-12% of calories compared with 18%-25% of calories in the other studies. A statistically significant reduction in estradiol levels of -6.6% (95% CI = -10.3% to -2.7%) remained after exclusion of these two studies. Review of prospective analytic epidemiologic studies that allowed for dietary measurement error suggests that the possibility that reducing fat consumption below 20% of calories will reduce breast cancer risk cannot be excluded.
Dietary fat reduction can result in a lowering of serum estradiol levels and such dietary modification may still offer an approach to breast cancer prevention.