Alcohol and Breast Cancer Risk
Drinking as little as half a glass of wine a day may raise a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, a new study shows.
May 16, 2005 (Orlando, Fla.) -- Alcohol may be good for your heart in
moderation, but drinking as little as half a glass of
And don't think that switching to beer or spirits is the answer: The more
alcohol consumed on a regular basis, the greater the risk, says Wendy Y. Chen,
MD, PhD, a cancer specialist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of
Chen notes that women thinking about having a few glasses of wine a day for
their heart-healthy effects need to figure in the new findings when weighing
the risks and benefits. She stresses that "its only regular, repeated use
that increases the chance of breast cancer. For most women, having a glass of
wine or beer on occasion is not a problem."
Postmenopausal Women at Greatest Risk
Previous estrogen. Many breast cancers are fueled by the hormone estrogen.
Therefore, regular use of alcohol is thought to increase the risk of breast
cancer by increasing blood estrogen levels.
Alcohol may change the way the body
The new study tracked the health of 122,000 women since 1976. They were free
of cancer at the start of the study. Every four years, the women were asked how
much alcohol they had used during an average month in the past year.
By 2002, nearly 6,000 of the women developed breast cancer.
When compared with teetotalers:
- Women who drank the equivalent of a half glass of wine a day were 6% more
likely to develop breast cancer.
- Women who drank a glass or two a day faced a 21% increased risk of breast
- Those who drank more than two drinks a day were 37% more likely to develop
However, the risk was much greater in menopausal women:
- Menopausal women who drank a half glass of wine daily increased their
chance of breast cancer by 18%.
The elevated risk was also more pronounced for women whose tumor growth was
fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone -- a group that accounts for
about 70% of women with breast cancer.
Assessing Breast Cancer Risk
The American Cancer Society lists alcohol as
It clearly states that having a drink or
more a day is a risk factor for the disease. One standard drink a day is
defined as moderation for women.
But this is the first study to show that even a half glass a day is
associated with "a slight but definite increase in risk," says Len
Lichtenfeld, MD, the society's deputy chief medical officer.