Doctors urging FDA to put breast cancer warning label on cheese

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby


(WIVB) – A group that represents 12,000 US doctors is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to put warning labels on cheese.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine points to studies that link the high-fat dairy product to breast cancer.

Still, as the greater medical community churns over the possible link to cancer, many remain skeptical that cheese should ever be relegated to the status of carcinogens.

For many Americans, it’s not whether you like cheese, but which one you like best.

“I love cheese and any kind, melted, hard cheese,” Barbara Meseika said.

“I like cheddar cheese, I like Feta, gouda, swiss,” Deborah Anderson said.

“Swiss, Munster, American cheese, I’m not sure if that counts as real cheese or not,” Beverly Williamson said.

Now, that beloved sandwich, casserole, and pizza staple is under attack.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, or PCRM, is leading the charge to get the FDA to add warning labels to cheese, citing two studies that link the high-fat dairy product to breast cancer.

In 2017 a National Cancer Institute study found women who consumed the most American, cheddar, and cream cheeses had a 53 percent increased risk for breast cancer.

Another study found women already diagnosed with breast cancer who consume one or more servings of high-fat dairy products— like cheese, ice cream, and whole milk, daily, had a 49 percent higher breast cancer mortality rate.

“Those two big studies were kind of the driving force behind why we felt like this campaign was relevant and again we don’t think many women know about this link between dairy products and breast cancer,” Susan Levin, the Director of Nutrition Education at PCRM, said.

The cause is still up for debate, but experts believe it could have to do with high levels of estrogen from cows that are more concentrated in cheese.

Finley Wiles, a Clinical Nutrition Specialist with Prisma Health Cancer Institute, says it’s still too soon to make a definitive conclusion.

“To say that there’s enough evidence to put an FDA label on cheese, is jumping the gun a little bit, there would need to be a lot more data. The two studies that they showed doesn’t really give enough to say cheese is a carcinogen,” Wiles said.

Wiles is also quick to point out, you may not want to cut out all dairy. In fact, she points to a study that shows yogurt consumption is linked to a reduction in breast cancer risk.

However you slice it, both sides agree a high fiber diet full of fruits, veggies, beans and grains reduces the risk of breast cancer. That’s because fiber is the only train out of town for excess estrogen in your body.

PCRM’s push for warning labels may not change habits.

“I figure I’ve made it this long so maybe cheese won’t hurt me too bad,” Williamson said with a chuckle.

But it’s giving new meaning to the expression, food for thought.

“Well that is a little concerning that all these doctors are concerned about it,” Anderson said.

7News reached out to the FDA for comment. The agency said it received the PCRM’s request for warning labels on cheese earlier this month and is in the process of reviewing the petition.

If history is any indication, the FDA has opposed warning labels on other food items, including an attempt by California to put a cancer warning on coffee.