Thursday 7 August 1997

Diet causes lung cancer more than smoke, study says

Charles Enman
The Ottawa Citizen

You've never smoked and your boss has banished the last smokers to the parking lot hinterland.

That means your risk of getting lung cancer has been minimized as far as it can be, right?

Well, no, says a recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer. Dietary sugar and fat can be big players in the development of lung cancer. Whole milk, rice pudding, fried meat, and sweet desserts all increase one's chances of developing this deadly form of cancer.

The risks associated with these dietary factors are far greater than those attributed to second-hand smoke.

The study, entitled "Dietary Fat and Lung Cancer Risk in Uruguay," was done in four hospitals in Montevideo, the country's capital.

It compared the smoking and dietary histories of 377 newly diagnosed lung cancer patients with 377 control subjects.

People who were heavy consumers of dairy products had a 185-per-cent greater risk of developing lung cancer. Heavy intake of fried foods increased the risk by 54 per cent.

Desserts notched up the risk 152 per cent.

Just as heavy smokers have a greater risk of lung cancer than light smokers, so were heavy eaters of certain foods at greater risk than light eaters.

As the authors write: "Significant positive trends were seen with increasing consumption of the fried meat, dairy products and desserts."

A report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows only a 19-per-cent increase in the incidence of lung cancer among non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke -- far less than the risks associated with diet that the Uruguay study reported.

The study allowed for other known risk factors such as body type, family history, total caloric intake, and smoking.

The authors acknowledge that not all studies of the relationship of dietary fat and lung cancer have confirmed their conclusions.

Of 19 studies, 13 have reported "positive associations" with fat and cholesterol intake. Three have reported no association. And three have reported a negative association, mainly with dairy products.

The new study's authors also note that people in Uruguay have a particularly high intake of meat, especially beef and lamb, and of whole milk and sugar-rich foods.

The authors suggest that foods high in fat may increase the cancer-causing properties of tobacco.