Drinking green tea may help protect women from getting breast cancer — that's the good news from a study by researchers at the Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health.

Published in the July 2001 issue of the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, the study, which used rats, is the first to report significant reduction in the size and malignancy of breast tumors from drinking green tea.

"This is one of many published studies about the possible health effects of tea (both green and black) as well as some of the compounds isolated from tea," commented TheDoctor's Dr. Robert Lerner, Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College, "It is very exciting, since there may be relevance for human disease. There is already epidemiologic evidence from a Japanese study that suggests that the use of green tea may slow the progress of breast cancer."

"The Hospital-based Epidemiologic Research Program at Aichi Cancer Center (HERPACC) in Japan collected lifestyle information from women with new cases of breast cancer. That study found a decreased risk of recurrence for early stage cancer patients who drank 3 or more cups of green tea. This suggests at least the possibility that regular green tea consumption may help prevent recurrence of breast cancer in early stage cases."

The authors of the Boston University study, Gail Sonenshein, M.D., Professor of Biochemistry, and Adrianne Rogers, M.D., Professor of Pathology, compared breast cancer development in two groups of female rats. They found that rats given green tea developed their tumors later than rats drinking water, and also developed tumors that weighed 70% less, compared to those drinking water. The green tea group also had less invasive cancers than the water-fed group.

According to the statistics cited in the study, the incidence of breast cancer in regions where green tea is consumed in large quantities, notably China and Japan, is much lower than in western societies. "There are, of course, many other dietary and other differences [that might account for this]," said Sonenshein, "but green tea is considered one of the prime candidates. Although we don't believe green tea by itself will prevent breast cancer, it may prove beneficial when used in combination with other dietary factors."