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Cumulative Alcohol Consumption Increases Breast Cancer Risk

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Breast Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

There are many genetic risks for developing breast cancer -- gender, aging and genetics -- that women have little or no control over. But personal lifestyle choices may also increase one’s risk for developing breast cancer.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.” NIAAA recommends women have no more than one drink per day as a healthy breast cancer preventative measure.

But in a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers say women need to drink even fewer than one drink per day. They’re recommending women drink no more than three drinks for the entire week, because women who consumed even that few drinks were found to have moderate risk for developing breast cancer.

“Researchers analyzed data from nearly 106,000 women taking part in the U.S. Nurses' Health Study to examine any links between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. The women were followed from 1980 through 2008 and asked about their alcohol consumption about every four years,” according to a release on the study.

Lead study author Dr. Wendy Chen, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, said that she and her team are not the first to find a link between alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer risk, but what is unique about her study is that it examines women’s drinking habits over a long span of time. Other studies focus on one period, whereas Chen says people’s drinking patterns change as years pass.

“Researchers also analyzed average daily alcohol consumption alongside other factors that could impact breast cancer risk, such as family history and age, to make sure they were really getting at the effect of alcohol. They found that women who drank a lot were also more likely to smoke, although most studies have not found a strong link between tobacco and breast cancer,” the study reports Chen having said.

Researchers believe one reason why alcohol consumption has an effect on breast cancer risk is because alcohol raises levels of circulating estrogen, and high levels of estrogen are linked to breast cancer.

Chen stressed that women who occasionally indulge on vacation or during the holidays shouldn't be alarmed because the findings looked at alcohol intake for a cumulative number of years.

Upon examining the study’s findings and the team’s methodology, Dr. Steven Narod, research chair in breast cancer at Women's College Research Institute in Toronto, said the study was "well conducted."

"I don't think I would worry about drinking one or two drinks a week. If your average is five or six a week, I'm not sure that I would be particularly worried about that, either. But 10 or more a week, maybe," Narod said.

A couple drinks here and there are probably not causing harm, but when it comes to breast cancer risk, you really can never be too sure.

Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society. Web. 2 Nov. 2011. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/BreastCancer/DetailedGuide/breast-cancer-risk-factors

As Few As 3 Drinks A Week May Up Breast Cancer Risk. Health Day. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Women and Alcohol. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Bailey Mosier is a freelance journalist living in Orlando, Florida. She received a Masters of Journalism from Arizona State University, played D-I golf, has been editor of a Scottsdale-based golf magazine and currently contributes to GolfChannel.com. She aims to live an active, healthy lifestyle full of sunshine and smiles.

Reviewed November 2, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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EmpowHER Guest

Many of us enjoy a glass of wine at dinner and some recent studies have indicated that a small amount of alcohol might help lower the risk of heart disease. http://bit.ly/rJerP5

November 3, 2011 - 12:41am
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