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Wine, Fat Intake Linked to Breast Cancer

More Than 1.5 Glasses of Wine Daily Doubles Breast Cancer Risk, Study Shows
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WebMD Health News

March 17, 2004 -- A new study continues to link drinking alcohol -- especially wine -- to an increase in breast cancer risk.

Researchers in Sweden found that women who drank about two to three glasses of wine a day were twice as likely to develop breast cancer compared with women who drank less. One glass was equal to 5 ounces of wine.

No significant association was found between breast cancer and beer or liquor. But researchers conclude that this apparent lack of an association was likely because of the fact that women more commonly reported drinking wine than beer or liquor.

"It is much more socially acceptable for women to drink wine so we believe the reporting was more accurate and that wine is a good measure for total alcohol consumption," researcher Irene Mattisson, PhD, tells WebMD.

But moderate amounts of alcohol a day -- up to one beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or just under 1 ounce of liquor -- seemed to have some protective effect against breast cancer.

Along with colleagues from Malmo, Sweden's Lund University, Mattisson followed almost 12,000 postmenopausal Swedish women for up to 10 years after the women completed detailed diet questionnaires and recorded their food and alcohol consumption for one week. The findings were reported today in an online edition of the International Journal of Cancer.

"Drinking wine is widely perceived to be OK or even healthy because it is believed to reduce cardiovascular risk, but this may not be a good message for women," Mattisson says. "It is clear that for women who do drink, moderation is key."

Folic Acid May Be Protective

The Swedish study is just the latest to link alcohol consumption and breast cancer. Two previous studies, which pooled data from many others, showed that drinking one alcoholic beverage a day increases a woman's breast cancer risk by 10% to 30%, American Cancer Society senior epidemiologist Heather Spencer Feigelson, PhD, tells WebMD.

But three separate studies also show that drinking women can mitigate this risk by taking a multivitamin containing folic acid every day, she adds.

"A 10% increase in risk is not a lot," she says. "Certainly being overweight is a stronger risk factor for breast cancer, as is the use of hormone replacement therapy."

Fat Increases Breast Cancer

In a widely reported study, published late last month, Feigelson and ACS colleagues found that women who gain 20 to 30 pounds after high school have a 40% increase in breast cancer risk. A higher risk was seen among women who gained more weight.

Although studies have consistently linked body fat with breast cancer risk, most previous studies have failed to show an independent link between dietary fat intake and risk, Feigelson says. The Swedish study is among the few to report such a link.

In Mattisson's study, women who ate the most fat increased their risk of breast cancer by 35%.

Mattisson says women who ate large amounts of omega-6 fats, such as those found in margarine, seemed to have the biggest increase in risk, but no risk increase was seen among women eating large amounts of omega-3 fats, such as those found in fish, such as salmon, and flaxseed.

"We did find a positive association between overall fat intake and breast cancer, but the type of fat a woman eats does appear to be important," she says.

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