Alcohol ups risk of breast cancer among women

Research suggests alcohol consumption among girls with family history of cancer can increase chance of developing disease.

Wine glasses 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wine glasses 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A new study has found that adolescent girls with a family history of breast disease have a higher risk of developing benign breast disease as young women, and that alcohol consumption increases the risk. The research, conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, focused on the role of hormones and body processes in determining certain risk factors of breast disease.
"In the current study, we have tried to disentangle the effects of alcohol in women with a family history that includes both breast cancer and benign breast disease, compared to women with no family history," senior study author Graham A. Colditz said, "and we're seeing the strongest effect of alcohol in women with breast disease in the family."
Where other studies have focused on linking older populations to a risk of breast cancer, this research is some of the first to look at alcohol consumption in young women who have a family history of breast disease. Over 9,000 girls from all over the US who were between the ages of nine and 15 when the study first started in 1996 were given annual questionnaires about their lifestyles. Researchers tracked family history, alcohol intake, height and weight, waist circumference and age of first menstrual period as well as other factors that influence the risk of breast cancer. Subsequent surveys in 2003, 2005 and 2007 asked whether the girls had been diagnosed with benign breast disease. In the two later surveys, 67 young women responded that they had been diagnosed, while 6,741 reported negative results.
Independent of the effects of alcohol consumption, researchers found that when a young woman's mother or aunt had breast disease – benign or not – she was more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with benign breast disease as a young woman without a family history.
When alcohol consumption among the young women was looked at, the researchers found that girls whose mothers, aunts or grandmothers had breast cancer already had a higher risk of getting it themselves, a risk heightened with the amount of alcohol imbibed. It was found that alcohol consumption had no effect on young women without a family history and that other factors such as an increased body mass index in childhood, waist circumference in adolescence and height in adulthood were more related to their risk of breast disease.