The probability of a person getting cancer depends on both genetic and non-genetic factors. A genetic factor is an inherited, unchangeable trait while a non-genetic factor is a variable in a person’s environment, which one can change. Some non-genetic factors play a role in facilitating the process of healthy cells turning cancerous (i.e. the correlation between smoking and lung cancer) while some cancers have no known environmental correlation but are known to have a genetic predisposition, meaning a person may be at higher risk for a certain cancer if a family member has that type of cancer.

Recently, attention has been focused on some non-genetic factors and their association with cancer such as diet, exercise, pollution and stress. Some of these factors have been associated with a higher incidence of some types of cancer in people who have a high exposure to one or more of them. Conversely, different factors have been associated with people having a lower incidence of some types of cancer with high exposure to one or more of them.

Several studies have shown a correlation between the consumption of large quantities of red meat in a diet with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. A recent study investigated the exact compounds in red meat that may be causing the increased risk of cancer. Over 900 women were evaluated according to their normal dietary intake, frequency, cooking techniques and preference of doneness of meat. The results showed that women with breast cancer not only consumed more red meat, but also cooked meat to be more well-done than women without breast cancer. The study further focused on compounds in well-done red meat called heterocyclic amines (HCA). The amounts of HCAs vary according to cooking technique, temperature, cooking time and type of meat. In this study, women with breast cancer consumed more HCAs in their diet, due to their higher consumption of well-done red meat, compared to women without breast cancer.

From these findings, the researchers concluded that a large consumption of specific types of HCAs may play a role in the development of breast cancer. Further studies need to be done in order to determine exactly which HCAs are carcinogenic (cancer causing). The importance of this study is to add to the evolving conclusion that decreasing the amount of red meat in a person’s diet may play a role in maintaining overall good health. (Journal of National Cancer Institute, Vol 92, No 16, pp 1352-1354, 2000)

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