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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Alcohol Raises Risk of Specific Breast Cancers

Risk May Be Confined to Certain Type of Tumor

Weighing the Risks

The findings suggest that alcohol and hormone therapy act more strongly together to promote ER-positive breast cancers. But Wolk acknowledges that there are still many unanswered questions about the association.

It was not clear how long the women in the study had taken hormones, how recently they had taken them, or which combination of hormones they took. Wolk says that information about total duration of alcohol use was not gathered. Also, Wolk reports that other studies have not demonstrated a similar association between alcohol and ER-positive breast tumors.

Heather Feigelson, PhD, tells WebMD that the association makes sense because alcohol use and hormone treatment have independently been linked to an increase in ER-positive breast cancers.

Feigelson, an American Cancer Society epidemiologist, also studies the impact of alcohol use on breast cancer risk.

She recommends that postmenopausal women discuss their individual risks with their doctor when weighing whether to have an occasional drink. On the plus side, moderate drinking -- defined as one drink or less a day -- has been shown to help protect against heart disease and is suspected of reducing the risk of dementia.

But for women with other risk factors for breast cancer, such as obesity or a family history of breast cancer, the risks of moderate drinking may outweigh the benefits.

"The modifiable risk factors for breast cancer are few," she says. "They include losing weight if you are overweight, exercising, not taking hormones, and not drinking alcohol."

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