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Alcohol May Increase Breast Cancer Risk

Fat Hormone Leptin Could Explain Alcohol, Breast Cancer Link
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 18, 2003 - Drinking alcohol, even in moderation, may increase a woman's breast cancer risk. Now a carefully controlled government study may help explain why.

Consuming one or two alcoholic drinks per day was found to increase blood levels of the fat hormone leptin in postmenopausal women taking part in the National Cancer Institute study. Early research shows that elevated leptin levels may be associated with an increased breast cancer risk, as well as colorectal and prostate cancers.

"This study provides insight into how this hormone could potentially impact the health of women," researcher Mark J. Roth, MD, tells WebMD. "In addition to cancer, there is also evidence that leptin is associated with infectious diseases and autoimmune disorders."

Risks vs. Benefits

For women especially, the health implications of moderate drinking are a subject of continuing confusion. An international review of nearly 50 studies published late last year, showed that the more women drank, the higher their breast cancer risk. But researchers concluded that the beneficial effects of moderate drinking on the heart and circulation probably outweigh this risk.

In another study published just last month, moderate drinking was linked to a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but diabetes risk tripled among women consuming three or more drinks per day.

Many say that alcohol influences breast cancer risk and other diseases by elevating hormone levels in the blood. The current study was designed to test this theory.

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