Drinking just one glass of milk a day may increase the risk of women developing Ovarian cancer, scientists said yesterday.
Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm analysed 21 studies researching diet and Ovarian cancer and found that drinking milk increased cancer risk by 13 per cent.
But milk actually lowers the risk of other cancers and they did not recommend women should stop drinking it. No significant link was found between other dairy products and the disease.
The study investigated cases of malignant Ovarian cancer, which affects 50 per cent of ovarian cancer sufferers.
Dr Susanna Larsson said: “Drinking a glass a day [containing roughly 10 grams of lactose] creates quite a high-risk increase.”
But she said: “You can lower your risk of developing colon and rectal cancer, which is more common than ovarian cancer, by drinking milk. Milk is still more beneficial than harmful.”
The research was carried out on women aged 40 and over.
Dr Larsson said: “I cannot confirm at what age, or over what period of time, drinking milk can begin to cause ill-effects.
“Children need milk but perhaps teenagers should watch how much they drink.”
Derek Napier, the chief executive of the Association of International Cancer Research (AICR) in St Andrews, said: “If we are saying a glass of milk a day is cancerous we might as well shoot ourselves.
“Milk is good for us. If we stopped drinking milk then we are going to suffer from calcium loss which is especially bad for children. I cannot believe we are now going to tar milk with the same brush as cigarettes.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Ovarian cancer is fairly uncommon, yet it is the 5th leading cause of cancer death in women and the leading cause of death from gynecologic malignancies. The cause is unknown. The disease is more common in industrialized nations, with the exception of Japan. In the United States, females have a 1.4 - 2.5% (1 out of 40-60 women) lifelong chance of developing ovarian cancer.
“We must accept the benefits we would be giving up if we stopped drinking milk.”
Henry Scowcroft, a senior information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “This study has shown that regularly drinking milk is linked to a very tiny increase in the absolute risk of Ovarian cancer - equivalent to about 0.2 per cent.
“A woman’s lifetime ovarian cancer risk is about 2.1 per cent. Cancer Research UK strongly advises people not to change their diet to avoid these foods given the health benefits of drinking skimmed milk and eating low-fat dairy products.”
Dr Alice Cotter, a nutritionist speaking on behalf of the Dairy Council, said: “The great majority of the studies did not support a link between dairy foods and the risk of ovarian cancer. A similar research paper which analysed 22 studies in this area was published in February this year and the authors did not find any association between milk and dairy foods and ovarian cancer risk.
“Studies of this type contribute to scientific research about ovarian cancer, but the authors themselves point out several limitations of the study.
“Other studies have shown that milk and dairy foods may have a protective effect against some forms of cancer.”
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD