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Do Milk Products Cause Cancer?

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Does drinking milk cause cancer?

There is ongoing research into the relationship between milk consumption and cancer risk, but the current evidence is mixed and inconclusive.

Milk and its relationship to prostate cancer has been a topic of interest for many researchers. Previous studies suggest that milk consumption could increase the risk of prostate cancer, although experimental results have varied due to various factors. Research on the relationship between casein and colon cancer is inconsistent. Some studies suggest that cooked casein could promote colon cancer, while other studies found that casein hydrolysates inhibited colon cancer cell growth. Recent studies have also investigated how casein phosphopeptides, a family of bioactive peptides, may influence the growth and death of intestinal adenocarcinoma cells.

Some studies suggest that high milk consumption may be associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer, such as prostate, ovarian, and breast cancer, while others have found no such link or even a protective effect of milk against cancer.

For example, a 2021 meta-analysis of 17 studies found no significant association between milk consumption and overall cancer risk, but did find a slightly increased risk of prostate cancer in men who consumed high amounts of milk.

Another study published in 2020 found that milk intake was not associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in women, but did find a higher risk of ovarian cancer in women who consumed high amounts of lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products.

It's worth noting that some studies have limitations, such as relying on self-reported data or not controlling for other factors that could influence cancer risk.

Our recent studies showed that the proteins found in milk, particularly casein and alpha-casein, can promote the proliferation of prostate cancer cells, while having no effect on other types of cancer cells or normal prostate cells. Interestingly, our experiments showed that casein has a unique way of promoting the growth of cancer cells that goes beyond its nutritional content.

In the past, it was believed that high levels of IGF-1 in the blood could increase the risk of prostate cancer. However, our findings suggest that the effects of casein on the proliferation of prostate cancer cells are not related to IGF-1 levels. We still need to conduct further research to understand how casein promotes the growth of cancer cells and whether it has any effect on human prostate cancer.

Overall, the research on milk and cancer is still evolving, and more studies are needed to fully understand the potential relationship between milk consumption and cancer risk. In the meantime, it's important to maintain a balanced and varied diet that includes a variety of foods, rather than relying on any one food or nutrient for cancer prevention.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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