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Drinking Increases Breast Cancer Risk

Apr 14, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP In a huge US study analyzing data from over 184,000 women, a link has been discovered between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of the most common type of breast cancer in post-menopausal women.  The study is the largest of three major studies to conclude that drinking raises the risk of breast cancer for older women, according to Jasmine Lew, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute and the study's lead investigator.  Breast cancer is the second most common cancer killer of women, after lung cancer and will be diagnosed in 1.2 million people globally this year, killing 500,000.

The research found that women who consumed one to two small drinks each day were 32 percent more likely to develop a hormone-sensitive tumor.  The risk increased to 51 percent if the women consumed three or more drinks a day.  "Regardless of the type of alcohol, the risk was evident," said Lew.  Lew presented the findings at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.  Other studies have linked light consumption of alcoholic drinks, especially red wine, to heart protection.

About 70 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have tumors that are positive for both the estrogen and progesterone receptors.  Lew said results from the NCI study lend credence to the theory that alcohol's interference with the metabolism of estrogen raises the risk of cancer and, although Lew said it was too early to make public health recommendations; women should consult with their physicians to assess risk factors and to also consider lifestyle changes.

Meanwhile, this past September, one of the largest individual studies of the effects of alcohol on the risk of breast cancer concluded it makes no difference whether a woman drinks wine, beer or spirits (liquor), the alcohol itself (ethyl alcohol) and the quantity consumed is the likely trigger to the onset of cancer.  That study also found that the increased breast cancer risk from drinking three or more alcoholic drinks a day is similar to the increased breast cancer risk from smoking a pack of cigarettes or more daily.  Dr. Arthur Klatsky—adjunct investigator in the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, Oakland, California--said, "Population studies have consistently linked drinking alcohol to an increased risk of female breast cancer, but there has been little data, most of it conflicting, about an independent role played by the choice of beverage type."  Klatsky and his colleagues studied the drinking habits of 70,033 multi-ethnic women who supplied information during health examinations between 1978-1985.  By 2004, 2,829 of these women were diagnosed with breast cancer.  Researchers found no difference in the risk of developing breast cancer between wine, beer, or spirits and did find a relationship between breast cancer risk and total alcohol intake.  Women who drank between one and two alcoholic drinks per day increased their risk of breast cancer by 10% compared with light drinkers who drank less than one drink a day; the risk of breast cancer increased by 30% in women who drank more than three drinks a day.

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