Consumption of dairy products and the risk of breast cancer: a review of the literature

Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jul;80(1):5-14. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/80.1.5.


Differences in eating patterns and breast cancer rates across countries suggest that several dietary components, including dairy products, could affect breast cancer risk. However, dairy products are a diverse food group in terms of the factors that could potentially influence risk. Some dairy products, such as whole milk and many types of cheese, have a relatively high saturated fat content, which may increase risk. Moreover, milk products may contain contaminants such as pesticides, which have carcinogenic potential, and growth factors such as insulin-like growth factor I, which have been shown to promote breast cancer cell growth. In contrast, the calcium and vitamin D contents of dairy products have been hypothesized to reduce breast cancer risk. We reviewed the current epidemiologic literature on the relation between dairy product intakes and breast cancer risk, focusing primarily on the results of cohort and case-control studies. Most of the studies reviewed showed no consistent pattern of increased or decreased breast cancer risk with a high consumption of dairy products as a whole or when broken down into high-fat and low-fat dairy products, milk, cheese, or butter. Measurement error may have attenuated any modest association with dairy products. The available epidemiologic evidence does not support a strong association between the consumption of milk or other dairy products and breast cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Dairy Products* / adverse effects
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Life Style
  • Menopause
  • Middle Aged
  • Pesticides / adverse effects
  • Risk Factors
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage


  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Dietary Fats
  • Pesticides
  • Vitamin D