According to a 1986 article in the Chicago Tribune:

Researchers [at Rockefeller University] are studying the effects of obesity on estrogen activity and the tendency for women to develop breast and uterine cancer. All the subjects being studied are male.

A 2018 article in the New York Post says:

A 1986 pilot study from New York City’s Rockefeller University exploring how obesity impacts breast and uterine cancer, of all things. No women were studied.

One can find similar claims on a variety of websites. I think their unstated source is the Tribune article.

Studying breast cancer in men is reasonable, although difficult because the base rate is low. Studying uterine cancer in men, on the other hand, seems like a non-starter. Did such a study actually occur? My suspicion is that this is a mischaracterization of a real study, rather than a complete fabrication, but goodness knows what actual study the Tribune was referring to.

  • 1
    The Tribune article mentions a Leon Bradlow as one of the researchers, who also seems to be known as H. Leon Bradlow. I've been looking through Bradlow's publications around that time but haven't found anything yet that quite matches. Though I did find: RICHARD J. HERSHCOPF and others, Metabolism of Estradiol Fatty Acid Esters in Man, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 61, Issue 6, 1 December 1985, Pages 1071–1075, doi.org/10.1210/jcem-61-6-1071 which is a study of five men and one woman. May 17 at 5:14
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    Scratch previous. it was quoting 1997 article doi.org/10.1093/jnci/89.10.718 . There is H. Leon Bradlow as an author. Edit this could be it... quote Two groups of research subjects were studied. The first group comprised seven men; the second group comprised 10 women. The men were initially enrolled as part of an I3C pilot study, whereas the women were enrolled in a larger study of the longterm effects of I3C. " This matches the original claim pretty well, but impossible to say if this is the origin.
    – pinegulf
    May 17 at 8:31
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    Skimming those papers, I get a rough sense of the situation: it looks like one general area of Bradlow's research was in studying the metabolism, in healthy patients, of certain hormones that were already known to be related to the development of breast and uterine cancer. That metabolism process would occur in any human. Of course, until proved otherwise it is possible that there would be important differences in the process between men and women - it's not clear if they simply assumed there weren't, or had other evidence. May 17 at 15:35
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    Be careful of assuming that the study was actually published.
    – Oddthinking
    May 17 at 17:54
  • 3
    @MooingDuck: It didn't look to me like Bradlow and company were concerned with testing treatments at all, but rather in the fundamental biological mechanisms involved in causing the disease, or that could be used to detect it. Very much "basic science". May 17 at 21:08

1 Answer 1


It appears that the Tribune mischaracterized real studies, at best.

The 1986 Chicago Tribune article mentions Leon Bradlow as a scientist working on the research — research that was still ongoing when the article was written. Given these two facts, and the topic being studied, I think this February 1987 paper is the result of the research: Obesity, diet, endogenous estrogens, and the risk of hormone-sensitive cancer by R J Hershcopf & H Leon Bradlow. Though the title only hints at it, this is clearly a paper that's supposed to be about women's cancers:

In postmenopausal women, obesity is positively related to the risk of both breast and endometrial cancer.

Note that endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer.

This paper is a literature review, rather than a report of new data. There are 76 citations, some studying women, others studying mixed groups, and a few even studying just men. Bradlow is an author on several of these papers.

The section most relevant to the claim is the following, which even mentions Rockefeller University:

Recent studies at The Rockefeller University Hospital (72-74) have demonstrated the effect of short-term changes in dietary intake on the mixed-function oxidase system (cytochrome P-450 system) as measured by changes in drug metabolism. Because the biotransformations of estrogens involve cytochrome P-450-linked monooxygenases, estrogen disposition might also be susceptible to dietary manipulations. Therefore, radiometric techniques were employed to study the effect of short-term dietary changes on in vivo estrogen metabolism (75,76). Eight male subjects were placed on high-carbohydrate and high-protein diets. The degree of hydroxylation at C-2 was significantly increased on the high-protein diet, while hydroxybation at C-l6 was not consistently affected (75). Moreover, it was shown that 5a-reduction of testosterone in man is considerably diminished by a high-protein diet (76), thus demonstrating that dietary composition can modulate both oxidative and reductive metabolism.

The relevant citations:

  1. Interactions between nutritional factors and drug biotransformations in man. (1976)
  2. Influence of dietary protein and carbohydrate on antipyrine and theophylline metabolism in man. (1976)
  3. Nutrition andoxidative drug metabolism in man: relative influence of dietary lipids, carbohydrate, and protein. (1979)
  4. The influence of dietary protein and carbohydrate on the principal oxidative biotransformations of estradiol in normal subjects. (1984)
    (Note that "normal subjects" means "eight normal men")
  5. Nutrition-endocrine interactions: Induction of reciprocal changes in the Δ4-5a-reduction of testosterone and the cytochrome P-450-dependent oxidation of estradiol by dietary macronutrients in man. (1983)

These papers were all written by mostly the same people: three people were on the author list for all 5 papers. "Bradlow HL" (from "The Rockefeller University Hospital") is an author on both 75 and 76.

It's at this point that I run into a wall. Most of these papers are behind paywalls that I can't get around. What I can access is very dense and doesn't mention a clear, real world application for the knowledge (e.g., they don't outright state anything about breast cancer or endometrial cancer). It also seems that these papers are not studying obesity (or at least did not recruit obese subjects). And while these papers study estrogen, that also plays an important role in males. At least one of the papers measured testosterone too.

But what is clear here is that the 1987 paper was about women, and the authors decided to cite several studies done entirely with men to make their point about tumors:

These studies demonstrate that diet can alter the metabolic disposition of endogenous steroids and provide the framework by which diet can influence the incidence of hormonally sensitive tumors.

  • So based on this reply the original claims are misleading if not exactly false?
    – pinegulf
    May 25 at 7:58
  • Those papers are here, 73, 74, 75.
    – User65535
    May 26 at 14:44

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