Doctors urge FDA to add breast cancer warning label to cheese

Illustration for article titled Doctors urge FDA to add breast cancer warning label to cheese
Photo: chelovek (iStock)

I am a woman who loves cheese. I am a woman who has boobs. I’m a woman who has survived a particularly nasty bout of stage IV cancer. And I am a woman who is terribly conflicted about this petition that has recently been submitted by a group of doctors to the U.S. Food And Drug Administration, requesting that all cheese be sold with a label that reads: “Dairy cheese contains reproductive hormones that may increase breast cancer mortality risk.” On one hand: cancer bad. On the other: cheese good?


The petition was filed on October 3rd by The Physicians Committee For Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit research and advocacy group that promotes plant based diets and higher standards of animal welfare. The petition cites several credible studies linking high fat dairy products to increased risk of breast cancer. A 2017 study from the National Cancer Institute found a 53% increase in breast cancer diagnosis in women who regularly consumed large amounts of certain high-fat cheese, which researchers believe could stem from insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and other growth hormones in dairy products. A 2013 study found that women who had been previously been diagnosed with breast cancer who ate one or more servings of high-fat dairy products daily—such cheese, ice cream, or milk—were 49% more likely to die from the disease than women who had less than less than half a recommended serving daily.

I’m usually the first person to call shenanigans when I read an alarmist medical headline—and I’m definitely skeptical when the story is linked to a medical organization with a non-medical agenda—but the more research I’m doing on this, the more it checks out. As much as I love cheese, having cancer sucked even more than you’re imagining it does, and I’d prefer not to have it again thank you very much. So if one of our many wonderful readers is particularly adept at translating medical research into layman’s terms, or if any of you are experts in boob science, please weigh in in the the comments. I’ve already eaten a ton of cheese today and it’s only 1 pm. I obviously need your help.

Allison Robicelli is a writer, recipe czar, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Tweet me for recipe help: @Robicellis.



Cancer doctor here.

I would use extreme caution when examining virtually anything this group does. The two studies cited are garbage (as most studies using patient questionnaires tend to be).

The PCFRM news release cites the 2017 study by claiming that “those who consumed the most American, cheddar, and cream cheeses had a 53 percent increased risk for breast cancer” when the actual study states that “higher intakes of American, cheddar, and cream cheeses were associated with a marginally significant increased risk (OR: 1.53; 95% CI: 0.99, 2.34; P = 0.05).” I am not impressed. If the 95% confidence interval for the OR includes 1 (as this does), the results are not statistically significant. Oh, and BTW, this same study reported that total dairy intake, yogurt intake (Hi, HamNo!), and sweet dairy intake were all associated with LOWER breast cancer risk.

Hundreds of studies have been done over the years in an attempt to find a relationship between certain foods, alcohol, exercise, etc. and cancer. For every study that says one food is bad, I can find you another that says that same food is actually good. Like I said, these questionnaire-based studies are usually flawed as hell. 

All things in moderation. Cheese isn’t going to kill you.