Polish women may be nearly half as likely to develop breast cancer than North American women, a study involving Toronto Women's College Hospital suggests.

Researchers followed more than 1,475 women living in Ontario, Poland and the United States for about four years. All of the women have the BRCA1 gene mutation, which raises the lifetime risk of breast cancer.

But the study found the disease much less likely to occur in Polish women with the gene mutation, and a Toronto scientist says environmental factors may be a reason.

Women's College researcher Joanne Kotsopoulos says she and the team conducting the study suspect diet and lifestyle play a part in keeping down the breast-cancer rate among Polish women.

"This is really important, because until now, we normally presumed that mutation is normally confirming breast cancer in these women," Kotsopoulos told CBC News. "So we're providing some preliminary evidence that non-genetic factors may also play a role in helping lessen the risks of developing cancer."

Polish Canadians cite healthy eating

The news didn't come as a surprise inside butcher Hubert Wesierski's Polish Deli in Bloor West Village.

Wesierski says Poles follow a healthy diet, shun processed and ready-to-serve food and favour natural preservatives.

"I use the minimum what I have to do. Like smoke meat, I use just a little. Like sausages, I use spices like pepper, garlic, nutmeg …no artificial flavour, nothing."

Elizabeth Sulatycki agreed.

"Poland has always been a very natural country," she said. "I believe they don't use a lot of herbicides and pesticides in their foods."

Researchers at Women's College say it may take a few years and solid funding to prove whether the Polish diet has an impact on breast cancer rates.