Barbecued meats and breast cancer survival

Shannon McCarthy Headshot
By: Shannon McCarthy

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women worldwide.1 Therefore, any experiments or research that is published relating to prevention or causes of such a disease, is worth the read. Evidence and studies can be conflicting so being able to be unbiased and take information in from all views is best when formulating an opinion and taking action.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) exist and persist in the atmosphere due to the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, and are established human carcinogens.1 PAHs are compounds produced when meat or fish is cooked at high temperatures, as in barbequing, smoking or grilling and may be ingested orally via consumption.1 PAHs are carcinogens and have already been attributed to the high rise in breast cancer cases recently.2 PAH sources may be both increasing expression of oncogenes and repressing expression of tumor suppressor and other genes important for normal cell functioning.3 This being said, there is a plethora of research studies and statements out there about the causal relationship between cooked meats, PAHs and breast cancer.


There are skeptics of this data out there that do not believe PAHs directly cause cancer or are a detriment to the human body because some studies also say that the data is unclear and the relationship is not exactly causal. “The influence of PAHs on the development of breast cancer remains unclear, but some PAHs have already been proven to induce breast tumors in animals. Animal-based studies have consistently revealed that exposure to PAHs deleteriously affects breast tissue.”1

 When women with breast cancer were interview about eating habits of grilled and barbecued meats, a correlation was found between these meats and death. Compared with women and a low meat intake, a high intake of grilled, barbequed and smoked meat before breast cancer diagnosis was linked to a 23% increased mortality rate.2 According to research, the link between barbequed foods and breast cancer is due to consumption before breast cancer, during breast cancer and in the post cancer stages.

 There is a ton of research out there associating grilled, barbequed and high temperature cooked meats and breast cancer. Some associations are with the development of breast cancer, some are with mortality rates and others are related to post cancer survival time. In general it is shown that eating these types of meats may be detrimental to someone with breast cancer and to be better safe than sorry, staying away from these meats is probably a good idea. If a family history of breast cancer is present, breast cancer has already been detected in the body or someone is in a post cancer survival part of life, then these meats may need to be avoided or at the least limited.



  1. Korsh J, Shen, A, Aliano K, Davenport T. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Breast Cancer: A Review of the Literature. Breast Care. 2015;10(5):316-318.
  1. Chu W. Barbecued meat appears to cut post-cancer survival time: study. Food Navigator. Accessed Mar 9, 2017. Updated Jan 6, 2017.
  1. White AJ, Chen J, Teitelbaum SL, et al. Sources of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are associated with gene-specific promoter methylation in women with breast cancer. Environ Res. 2016;145:93-100.

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