Diet and the risk of breast cancer in a case-control study: does the threat of disease have an influence on recall bias?

J Clin Epidemiol. 1999 May;52(5):429-39. doi: 10.1016/s0895-4356(99)00010-4.


It has been suggested that recall bias may explain the discrepant results between case-control and cohort studies on diet and the risk of breast cancer. Two control groups were used for this case-control study of 25 to 75-year-old breast cancer cases (n = 310). The first group consisted of population controls drawn from the Finnish National Population Register (n = 454). The second group consisted of women who were referred to the same examinations as were the cases because of clinical suspicion of breast disease but who were later diagnosed as healthy (referral controls; n = 506). Because the diagnosis was unknown at the time of interview, it was possible to assess by comparing the two control groups whether the self-reporting of diet changed under the threat of disease. Dietary habits were examined using a validated, self-administered food-frequency questionnaire. Premenopausal women misreported their consumption of liquid milk products, tea, and sugar. Reporting bias was also associated with the intake of fat and vitamins. Postmenopausal women misreported consumption of milk products. When recall bias was taken into consideration, milk was associated with increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer, whereas high consumption of poultry or high intake of monounsaturated fatty acids, n-3 fatty acids, n-6 fatty acids, and vitamin E were related to lower risk. The study suggested that oil, milk, cheese, coffee and beta-carotene may act as protective factors in postmenopausal women, whereas butter and cream may be risk factors for breast cancer. In summary, it is possible that some food items may be overreported or underreported under the threat of disease in health-conscious population. However, most of the results in this study were not modified by recall bias.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bias
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Mental Recall*
  • Middle Aged
  • Odds Ratio
  • Risk Factors
  • Selection Bias
  • Surveys and Questionnaires