Saturated and trans fats increase breast density and cancer risk

cancer breast fatty acids

The higher the breast density, the higher the risk of breast cancer. The scientific evidence that exists on this data leaves no room for doubt.

The advantage of this determining factor is that, although there is a genetic predisposition that conditions you , it can also be modulated or corrected if everything that favors it is controlled.

For example, a very high calorie diet or hormone replacement therapy is known to increase breast density.

Now, a study by CIBERESP and the National Center for Epidemiology, the results of which have been published in the scientific journal of the Journal of Nutrition, has discovered another very interesting factor that also influences and, fortunately, we can correct:

  • High levels of saturated and trans fatty acids in the blood are associated with increased breast density.


Mammographic density is measured based on the amount of fibroglandular tissue seen in light color on mammography.

  • The higher the proportion of dense tissue, the higher the risk of breast cancer.

And the reason is easy to understand: fibrous tissue has more cellular activity than fat, and therefore, the cells are more likely to replicate erroneously.


The research, led by Virginia Lope and Marina Pollán , analyzed blood samples and mammograms from 1,400 premenopausal women and found that those with the highest breast density:

  • They presented high concentrations in blood of saturated fatty acids (present in meats, dairy products, oils and fatty products).
  • They had high levels of palmitoleic monounsaturated fatty acid (apart from synthesis in the body, it can be derived from the consumption of animal fats and vegetable and marine oils).
  • There were also high concentrations of trans fatty acids such as palmitelaidic (found in ruminant meats and very fatty dairy products) and elaidic (typical of highly processed products).

Conversely, women with less breast density:

  • They had high levels of omega 6 like linoleic acid (found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds).


So far the results of the study but … how do these nutrients influence breast density? Virginia Lope explains to Saber Vivir that the exact mechanisms are unknown, but they do have suspicions about how they could act.

  • Regulators of inflammation . “Certain saturated and trans fatty acids would favor the action of inflammatory proteins, while derivatives of omega 3 and 6 have just the opposite effect. It is believed that the higher the inflammation, the higher the breast density , ” he explains.
  • More fatty tissue and less fibrous . “High levels of lipids such as omega 6 in blood could have a direct effect on the breast since it would increase fatty tissue, to the detriment of fibrous, which would reduce density,” he clarifies.


With these conclusions, the researcher does not hesitate to affirm that making the following changes in diet would help prevent breast cancer:

  • Eating fewer processed foods , red meat, fatty dairy products (butter, cheese, cream) or pastries; and increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts would reduce the intake of harmful fats and, without a doubt, the breast density and with it the risk of breast tumor.

The researcher reminds us that, in addition to diet, there are other factors that influence breast density and some of them are also modulable :

  • Age. Over the years, breast density decreases and fatty tissue increases.
  • A high caloric intake. It is associated with increased breast density.
  • Hormone replacement therapy given at menopause also increases it.
  • Having children reduces the risk of dense breast.
  • Oral contraceptives decrease fibroglandular tissue.
  • Being tall and slim. It is associated with increased breast density.


The study by Virginia Lope and Marina Pollán is undoubtedly a wake up call for us to improve our diet , but it may also be a tool to help in the early detection of breast cancer in the future.

“We must not forget that blood levels of fatty acids not only depend on what we eat because some can be synthesized endogenously , that is, they can be made by the body. In fact, only omega 3 and 6 and trans are obtained only through diet, the rest depend on what your body produces as well as what you eat, “ says Virginia Lope.

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