A study conducted over a period of three decades and involving a multi-ethnic female population represents one of the largest studies regarding the effect of alcohol consumption on the risk of breast cancer in women.
Announced on September 27 in Barcelona, Spain, the study concluded that it is not the type of alcohol consumed, but rather the ethyl alcohol itself that increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
Previous studies have fairly consistently shown a relation of alcohol drinking to increased risk of breast cancer, but the relative roles of wine, beer, and liquor have not been clear. This latest study, however, demonstrates that whether a woman drinks wine, beer, vodka, or any other kind of alcohol, she will increase her breast cancer risk. In fact, study results show that women who drink three or more alcoholic drinks per day have an approximately 30% increased risk of developing breast cancer.
On the other end of the spectrum, light drinkers do not have as high a risk of developing breast cancer since the direct correlation between alcohol consumption and an increased breast cancer risk is the amount of alcohol consumed. What is less clear is the definition of a “light” drinker.
Dr. Arthur Klatsky, adjunct investigator in the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, California, confirmed that there are many definitions of a “light” drinker, and all tend to be arbitrary.
“The US Department of Agriculture definitions are widely accepted,” Dr. Klatsky said. “Those define light moderate as up to one standard-sized drink per day for women and two for men.”
Starting in 1978, Dr. Klatsky and his colleagues studied a population of 70,033 multi-ethnic women, including African-American, Asian and White women. The Asian participants were categorized into sub-groups, including Japanese, Chinese, South Asian and Filipino. Each woman provided information regarding the amount of alcohol they consumed, the type of alcohol and frequency of drinking.
Although the study results showed a direct correlation between the amount of alcohol consumed and an increase in breast cancer risk, it is not the alcohol itself that triggers an onset of breast cancer. As Dr. Klatsky explained, there are additional factors involved.
“Alcohol is not considered carcinogenic by itself. In the (female) breast cancer instance, it (alcohol) is thought to prolong the presence of estrogenic hormones in the body. The hormones increase the breast cancer risk,” he said.
Even so, this complicates the issue of moderate alcohol drinking, especially in the form of red wine, for a healthy heart. Several studies have shown a direct coronary benefit from the consumption of red wine.
So what’s a woman with heart concerns to do?
According to Dr. Klatsky, the risk/benefit of drinking red wine needs to be individualized. “The only general statement that could be made as a result of our findings is that it provides more evidence for why heavy drinkers should quit or cut down,” he said.
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