Dietary fat and cancer: consistency of the epidemiologic data, and disease prevention that may follow from a practical reduction in fat consumption

Cancer Causes Control. 1990 Jul;1(1):81-97; discussion 99-109. doi: 10.1007/BF00053187.


International variations and national time trends in disease rates suggest major associations between dietary fat and several important cancers. In contrast, case-control and cohort studies of dietary fat in relation to the same cancers generally report weak associations, or have failed to detect any association with fat intake. This study was undertaken in an attempt to understand the apparent discrepancy between these observations. The results provide an insight into the magnitude of cancer risk reduction that may follow from a practical reduction in dietary fat. Regression analyses of international variations in cancer incidence rates were used to estimate relative risks (RR) as a function of fat intakes for both males and females. These analyses focused on cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, ovary, and endometrium in females, and colon, rectum, and prostate cancers in males. Ages 55-69 and 30-44 were considered in order to compare RR estimates between an older and younger age group, and between post- and pre-menopausal women. Corresponding RR estimates were also calculated, based on the regression of changes in disease rates from the mid-1960s to 1980 on changes in dietary fat, using data from several countries. A strong degree of consistency with the RR estimates from international comparisons was observed. The international regression analyses were also used to project changes in cancer rates among Japanese migrants to the United States. A high level of consistency with the observed disease-rate changes was noted. Similarly, the international data analyses were used to project RRs for the fat intake categories used in specific case-control and cohort studies, while acknowledging measurement error in individual dietary assessment. Although certain exceptions are noted, considerable consistency was found between the aggregate and analytic data results, leaving open the strong possibility that a practical reduction in dietary fat could result in a major reduction in the incidence of several prominent cancers in the United States and in other nations having high fat consumption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / etiology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Rectal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Transients and Migrants
  • Uterine Neoplasms / etiology


  • Dietary Fats