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WCRF/AICR
Global Network

AICR Health Talk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Does a lactose-free diet play a role in reducing cancer risk?

A: For people who can’t digest lactose, a naturally occurring sugar in milk, eating or drinking milk and other dairy products can lead to uncomfortable cramping and diarrhea. Overall, research shows no reduction in cancer risk by avoiding foods with lactose (dairy products). In fact, the latest report from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) analyzing the evidence links milk and calcium intake with lower risk of colorectal cancer.

There is some research linking consumption of dairy products with increased risk of prostate cancer, but the evidence here is not strong. A few studies have also linked high consumption of lactose with greater risk of ovarian cancer, but overall research does not show any clear link between lactose or dairy consumption and ovarian or other cancer. Limited animal research even shows possible protective effects of lactose for the colon.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 2-3 servings of dairy per day as part of an overall healthy eating plan. One serving equals 1 cup milk or yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces natural cheese.

Following a vegan diet or avoiding lactose? Learn how to get calcium from plant sources.


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

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