November 2, 2011
Alcohol Can Increase Chance Of Breast Cancer
According to a new study, consumption of 3 to 6 alcoholic drinks per week is associated with a small increase in the risk of breast cancer.
The researchers reported in the journal JAMA Wednesday that consumption in both earlier and later adult life also increases the risk of breast cancer.
"In many studies, higher consumption of alcohol has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. However, the effect of low levels of drinking as is common in the United States has not been well quantified," according to background information in the article.
"In addition, the role of drinking patterns (i.e., frequency of drinking and 'binge' drinking) and consumption at different times of adult life are not well understood."
Researchers examined the association of breast cancer with alcohol consumption during adult life.
The study involved 105,986 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study who were followed up from 1980 until 2008 with an early adult alcohol assessment and 8 updated alcohol assessments.
There were 7,690 cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed among the participants during the follow-up period.
The team found that a low level of alcohol consumption of 3 to 6 glasses of wine per week was modestly significantly associated with a 15 percent increased risk of breast cancer.
The researchers also found that women who consumed at least 2 drinks per day had a 51 percent increased risk of breast cancer compared with women who never consumed alcohol.
According to the study, alcohol consumption levels at ages 18 to 40 years and after age 40 years were both strongly associated with breast cancer risk.
The authors said that although the exact association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer is not known, one probable explanation may involve alcohol's effect on circulating estrogen levels.
"In summary, our study provides a comprehensive assessment of the relationship between alcohol intake and breast cancer risk in terms of timing, frequency, quantity, and types of alcohol in a large prospective cohort with detailed information on breast cancer risk factors," the researchers wrote in JAMA.
"Our results highlight the importance of considering lifetime exposure when evaluating the effect of alcohol, and probably other dietary factors, on the carcinogenesis process," the team said. "However, an individual will need to weigh the modest risks of light to moderate alcohol use on breast cancer development against the beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease to make the best personal choice regarding alcohol consumption."
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