Does Drinking Milk and/or Eating Dairy Products Cause Cancer?

The belief that milk and dairy products cause cancer is largely based on one author’s statement: “Casein is the most relevant chemical carcinogen ever identified, make no mistake about it…we can turn on and turn off cancer, turn on by increasing casein consumption…”1 Casein is a type of protein found in milk and dairy products. The author of the above quote claims that in his experiences, which he described in a book The China Study adding casein to a diet of experimental animals resulted in these animals developing cancer. In fact, he claims that he and his team were able to turn on and/or turn off cancer depending on whether or not they added casein to these animals’ feed.

When evaluating the above claim, it should be first pointed out that, even assuming that casein does have the type of impact on cancer as is described in the above-mentioned book, nobody goes to a grocery store and orders casein. Similarly, nobody has casein as an ingredient in a meal. As mentioned, we ingest casein in milk and dairy products. The notion that these food items cause cancer is based on the assumption that isolated from these products casein has the same impact as casein ingested with these products. This assumption may or may not be correct.

If indeed milk and dairy products cause cancer, because they contain casein, it seems logical that people who ingest more of them should be at a higher risk of developing cancer. Below I have included conclusions from several meta-analyses along with research findings on members of the Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) to see whether this is the case. The following quotes describe the impact of dairy among SDA members: “In AHS-2, we compared study members who were the highest dairy consumers (top 20 percent) to the lowest (bottom 20 percent).…The high dairy consumers had about 70 percent less rectal cancer than the low-consumers, but there was little or no difference for colon cancer. Most of the association of dairy with rectal cancer seemed to come from differences in milk consumption.”2

“Vegan diet seems to confer lower risk for overall and female-specific cancer compared to other dietary patterns. The lacto-ovo-vegetarian diets seem to confer protection from cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.”3 The above-described findings indicate that members of the SDA church who ingest more milk and/or dairy products have a lower risk of some cancers. Thus, these findings do not confirm the suggestion that milk and dairy product consumption causes cancer. It would be more accurate to conclude, based on the findings expressed in the quotes above, that dairy intake leads to a lower risk of some cancers.

Over the years, several meta-analyses that evaluated the impact of milk and/or dairy on cancer diagnosis and mortality have been published. A meta-analysis is a tool to evaluate findings from more than one study to see their cumulative effect on a condition of interest. Below, I am quoting conclusions from available meta-analyses. I purposely have excluded findings from those meta-analyses that were sponsored by the National Dairy Council since this organization directly benefits from the sale of milk and dairy products, thus, it has a conflict of interest when sponsoring research studies.

The first of these meta-analyses was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Men with the highest intake of dairy products (RR = 1.11 [95% CI = 1.00 to 1.22], P = .047) and calcium (RR = 1.39 [95% CI = 1.09 to 1.77], P = .018) were more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with the lowest intake. Dose-response analyses suggested that dairy product and calcium intakes were each positively associated with the risk of prostate cancer (P trend = .029 and .014, respectively).”4 The findings described in the above quote tell us that men with the highest intake of dairy products had an 11 percent higher risk of prostate cancer (note the RR = 1.11, which is interpreted as 11 percent higher risk, in the above quote), in comparison to men with the lowest intake. We also learned that men with the highest calcium intake had a 39 percent higher risk (note the RR = 1.39, in the above quote), compared to those with lowest intake. Considering that dairy products are among the best dietary sources of calcium we can conclude that they are associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

In another meta-analysis, authors evaluated the impact of milk and dairy on cancer of the bladder. It was sponsored by The Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province of China. “We extracted data from 14 studies on milk (involving 4879 cases) and 6 studies on dairy products (3087 cases). The total study population was up to 324,241 individuals. Overall, there was no significant association between milk intake and bladder cancer (SRRE 0.89, 95% CI 0.77-1.02). However, an inverse association was found in the United States (SRRE 0.88, 95% CI .79-.99). In addition, no significant association was observed between consumption of dairy products and risk of bladder cancer (SRRE 0.95, 95% CI .71-1.27), though an inverse association was detected in the Japanese population (SRRE 0.56, 95% CI .40-.80).”5 The number 0.88, mentioned in the context of the American study indicates a 12 percent lower risk. Similarly, the number 0.56 indicates a 44 percent lower risk among Japanese. Consistently, the above described findings seem to indicate that milk and dairy may have a protective effect on cancer of the bladder. This conslusion is especially strong among the Japanese.

In yet another meta-analysis, sponsored by The National Institutes of Health, authors evaluated the effect of drinking milk and ingesting dairy products on cancer of the pancreas. Here is what these scientists found: “There was no association between total milk intake and pancreatic cancer risk (MVHR = 0.98, 95% CI = 0.82-1.18 comparing ≥500 with 1-69.9 g/day). Similarly, intakes of low-fat milk, whole milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, and ice-cream were not associated with pancreatic cancer risk. No statistically significant association was observed between dietary (MVHR = 0.96, 95% CI = 0.77-1.19) and total calcium (MVHR = 0.89, 95% CI = 0.71-1.12) intake and pancreatic cancer risk overall when comparing intakes ≥1300 with <500 mg/day.”6 According to these results there was a negligible 2 percent, not statistically significant, difference among individuals who ingested at least 500 grams of milk and those who ingested about seven times (500/69.9=7.2) less of milk on the development of pancreatic cancer. This means that these findings do not support a suggestion that milk causes cancer.

Findings from the last meta-analysis summarize the impact of dairy products on cancer of the stomach. No sponsor was listed in this publication, which likely means, the authors did the analysis without any financial support. The authors stated, “We found 39 studies that were potentially eligible for inclusion in this meta-analysis, including 10 cohort studies and 29 case-control studies. The summary relative risk for gastric cancer, comparing the highest and lowest dairy product consumption categories, was 1.06 (95%CI: 0.95-1.18).”7 These results indicate a 6 percent increase, which was not statistically significant.

On the basis of available research findings we can conclude that the belief that milk and dairy intake cause cancer is at best very simplified and at worse misleading. Research findings show that milk, dairy products, and calcium intake increase risk of prostate cancer. The same products decrease risk of cancer of colon and rectum. The impact of these products on other cancers is less clear, however, it may be safe to state that they may also decrease risk of cancer of the bladder.

Milk and dairy products have constituted a staple of human diet for millennia. Individuals who want to give up drinking milk and eating dairy products can find at least a few valid reasons to do so. Perhaps the most prominent one has to do with the ethical aspect of keeping cows in confined spaces, treating them with hormones to increase the amount of milk they produce, and giving them unnatural diet that, instead of fresh grass, consists of a mixture of dried, ground dead animals. I myself have become a vegan for these reasons. Adventists should also keep in mind that, according to Ellen White, the time will come when it may not be safe to include milk in our diet.8 However, a concern that by ingesting milk and/or dairy products we may increase risk of getting cancer, with the exception of prostate cancer, seems not to be a valid reason to discard these food items.

Notes & References:

1. Campbell C. Link Between Dairy Protein, Casein, & Cancer.

2. A dairy Conundrum: Does it decrease the risk of colorectal cancer? Adventist Health Study 2 Annual Newsletter. Winter Edition, 2018.

3. Tantamango-Bartley Y., Jaceldo-Siegl K., Fan J., Fraser G. Vegetarian Diets and the Incidence of Cancer in a Low Risk Population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013;22(2):286-294.

4. Gao X., LaValley MP., Tucker KL. Prospective studies of dairy product and calcium intakes and prostate cancer risk: a meta-analysis. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2005;97(23):1768-1777.

5. Li F., An SL., Zhou Y., Liang ZK., Jiao ZJ., Jing YM., Wan P., Shi XJ., Tan WL. Milk and dairy consumption and risk of bladder cancer: a meta-analysis. Urology. 2011;78(6):1298-1305.

6. Genkinger JM., Wang M., Li R., Albanes D., Anderson KE., Bernstein L., et al. Dairy products and pancreatic cancer risk: a pooled analysis of 14 cohort studies. Ann Oncol. 2014;25(6):1106-1115.

7. Sun Y., Lin LJ., Sang LX., Dai C., Jiang M., Zheng CQ. Dairy product consumption and gastric cancer risk: a meta-analysis. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(42):15879-15898.

8. White E. Counsels on diet and foods. Review and Herald. 4th ed. 1976.

Roman Pawlak, Ph.D, RD is an Associate Professor of Nutrition at East Carolina University in North Carolina. He is the author of several books including Forever Young. Secrets of Delaying Aging and Living Disease Free, Healthy Diet without Secrets, In Defense of Vegetarianism, and I Am the Lord Who Heals You, and a co-author of Vegetarian Mother and Her Baby.

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Living this side of the tree of knowledge of good and evil,causes cancer.


Thank you Doctor Pawlak for your most excellent analysis of milk and cancer.

Totally anecdotally, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer eleven years ago. I was an anesthesiologist with an incredibly busy schedule, —cases back to back. Insufficient time to access the the excellent hospital cafeteria ( I worked for thirty years in an Adventist Medical Center ).

So famished, , I would run upstairs to the doctors’ lounge,which had a refrigerator, with cartons of skim milk and I would gulp down several ,of them. So my milk intake was significant prior to my cancer diagnosis.

Michael Gregor MD, author of the best seller, HOW NOT TO DIE — states that milk and cheese are “ fertilizers “ for prostate cancer.
He also incriminates eggs and chicken.

If this is true , it would behoove every man over forty five to reduce his intake of these potentially dangerous substances!


Those who still wish to use dairy and care about the animals that produce them can choose to buy only from farms who treat their animals well. I only buy from farms that advertise that their cows are pasture raised and are allowed access to fresh air and sunshine. In the case of eggs- only from farms that use no animal products or soy in their feed and are not caged. It also very important that these farms use no hormones and limited or no use of antibiotics.

Many chain grocery stores will carry some of these healthier brands…and they are easily found at other stores such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Groceries and many smaller health food stores. As well as being better for the consumer, it also provides a growing market for those farmers who want to go the more “natural” route. Fortunately, a more educated consumer is also a better customer.


Research that was done years ago, decades, 50 and even further back, revealed links between cancers and viruses and animals and the transfer of these via the mammary glands to offspring and also, in the case of dairy, to humans. One particular cancer of note was leukaemia. Why has this knowledge become extinct? If we don’t choose to remember, are we not set up for another assault? Or is leukaemia eradicated and no more a problem? If it is still prevalent, don’t you think we aught to ask “Why?”

As an engineer I have often given the concept, often repeated in medical circles related to cancer, a lot of thought. In engineering quality is not an add on. It is designed in. If you want to prevent a problem, you pre-empt it by designing in features that will counter the threat. We know there is a lot of truth to the statement “an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure”. I could never get my mind around the statement “Prevent cancer by early detection”. What are they wanting to prevent? It occurring or it spreading?

Maybe we need to become more careful thinkers and researchers. More thorough, consistent, honest, perceptive and deep in our analytical reasoning processes. I always appreciate this when I see it. But, then, sometimes I am still blind and need people to be patient and understanding with me.

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Cancer aside, what about the high saturated fat and cholesterol content of dairy products? Given that consumption of these have consistently been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, shouldn’t that be a cause for concern?

Drinking milk may be a problem, but drinking wine is a problem too: It causes GLOBAL WARMING, by farting!


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Peidos e arrotos… mostly the latter!
About 95% of the methane from cows is actually from burps, not peidos.

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Do you speak Portuguese?

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The message of the article by Pawlak is well taken. In reference to conclusions drawn by the author of The China Study, as well as others who base their conclusions on animal studies , it is well to remember that although studies in animals can provide helpful information and suggest directions for further research, animals are not humans. It is important to recognize that results from animal studies may not be directly applicable to humans and firm conclusions regarding humans should not be made based on animal studies.

Other points may be noted. Many investigations have not differentiated between whole and low-fat milks in the analyses. Milk contains a complex mixture of different fatty acids which have different metabolic effects. Researchers are beginning to report on the potential benefits of milk that contains the full array of fatty acids compared to low and non-fat milk. We are not providing a full literature review of the topic but will note some studies that have reported on full vs low fat outcomes and would encourage Pawlak to undertake such a review. All studies are necessarily limited by the conditions in which they are undertaken and by interactions of foods in the entire diet nonetheless results are interesting.

Investigators from the Physicians’ Health Study evaluated various dairy foods and risk of prostate cancer. They found that dairy products and calcium were associated with a greater risk of prostate cancer; however, they found that only skim milk was significantly and positively associated with increased risk. Skim milk has a higher amount of calcium than whole milk. Serum calcium concentration is very carefully regulated but variation within the normal levels can impact levels of the active form of vitamin D (1,25 (OH)2D3).They suggested that it was the higher calcium content in the skim milk that resulted in lower levels of the active form of vitamin D. Other studies have suggested that 1,25 (OH)2D3is protective against prostate cancer. Dairy fat and dairy protein were not significantly associated with risk. (Am J Clin Nutr 2001;74(4):549-54)

While Pawlak focused on cancer, similar findings can be noted regarding cardiovascular disease.

A 16-year study of adult Australians found, after making appropriate adjustments for confounders, “no consistent and significant association between total dairy intake and total or cause-specific mortality.” However, when they compared those with the lowest intake of full-fat dairy with those with the highest intake, they found that those with the highest intake of full-fat dairy products had a lower risk of cardiovascular mortality. On average those with the lowest intake consumed less than ¼ c whereas those with the highest intake consumed 1 2/3 cup. Eur J Clin Nutr 2010 Jun;64(6):569-77

One study evaluated the evidence regarding milk and dairy consumption and the “life-threating diseases in the UK, vascular disease, diabetes and cancer.” They hoped to evaluate whole vs low fat milk but found there were too many confounding variables to make the data useful for analyses. However, they did conclude that their results “provide evidence of an overall survival advantage from the consumption of milk and dairy foods.” J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Dec;27(6):723S-34S.

Another study looked at reduced fat and regular fat dairy products and cardiometabolic markers in adolescents. They reported a mean reduction in diastolic blood pressure of 0.66mmHg per serve of reduced fat dairy and an independent additional reduction of 0.47 mmHg per serve of regular fat dairy in boys. Further, they reported for each additional serving of reduced fat dairy there was a 2% decrease in HDL-cholesterol and a 2% increase in total cholesterol. These associations were not seen in girls. They noted, “emerging evidence suggests that dairy fat may not have detrimental health effects.” (Nutrients 2016; 8(1):22)

Another comprehensive review of data on relationship of dairy fat and high-fat dairy foods, obesity and cardiometabolic disease concluded that, although not conclusive, “observational evidence does not support the hypothesis that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk.” (Eur J Nutr 2013;52(1):1-24)

Another study reported higher intake of dairy saturated fat was associated with lower CVD risk, while higher saturated fat from meat was associated with greater risk of CVD. They found that substituting 2% of energy from meat saturated fat with energy from dairy saturated fat was associated with 25% lower CVD risk. (AJCN 2012;96;(2):397-404)

Most studies of dairy fat intake use self-reported information. More recently researchers have used specific plasma phospholipids as objective measures of dairy fat intake. One such study reported an inverse association of a specific dairy fat marker with incident cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, that is higher dairy fat was associated with lower incidence of CVD and CHD. (Circulation 2013;127:AP263)

Looking at other conditions, whole milk was reported to be associated with lower incidence of metabolic syndrome among older Australian adults. (Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2013;23(9):816-21) Another study also from Australia found that diets that incorporate high intakes of dairy food “may reduce the risk of diabetes among men.” (Pub Health Nutr 2013;16:339-345)

A study looking at conditions affecting women found that “high intakes of low-fat dairy foods may increase the risk of anovulatory infertility whereas full-fat dairy foods may decrease the risk.” (Hum Reprod 2007 May;(5):1340-7)

It seems whenever research reports a food is beneficial to health, someone takes it apart to find the particular component that supposedly causes the beneficial effect and then puts it in a pill or some other kind of package and entices the public to buy it instead of the food it came from. In reality it is the entire package of the food with its multitude of different compounds that is beneficial, not just one particular component. We might wonder why it would be better to take apart something God made and called good and think it would be better than the way God made it.


Here is a recent podcast with Dr Gregor (of discussing Why Dairy is so Scary”

No mention here of BLV or the problem of bulk tanks in U.S. dairy operations, resulting in 100% of milk tested positive for the BLV virus. My understanding is that in Europe they do not pool milk in this way. If there are differences in practice, and these weren’t taken into account in the various studies cited, then the lack of correlation between dairy and cancer could potentially be due to lack of experimental controls in factors such as BLV.

Speak… as in conversational?.. no. Never was able to find a Portuguese girl friend for assistance.
So, only academic usage. However, since you asked, I did find a Spanish speaking girl friend who offered assistance but was still unable to conquer the differences between P and S.

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I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis. It looks like you are doing well regardless of the diagnosis. As for Gregor’s suggestion, I found that most well-known vegetarian/vegan advocates have a bias against meat, animal products and oils. They seem to cherry pick studies that support their bias. The evidence is mixed, while things, such as eggs are associated with an increased risk of some cancers, they are also associated with a decreased risk of other cancers. Guidelines for cancer prevention include avoiding processed and limiting red meat intake. White meat, such as chicken does not have a big impact on the risk.


This is yet another misconception. Fats have not been created equal. This goes for saturated fat as well. There are several different saturated fats (e.g. lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, etc. etc.), ,some are long, some medium, and some long chain fatty acids. They don’t have the same effect on heart disease risk. Dairy fats are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. But, if you are concern with fat intake, you can always choose low fat. A slice of cheese may have up to 6 grams of fat. A slice of low fat cheese may only have 1 gram.


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