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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Alcohol May Raise Breast Cancer Risk

Researchers See Possible Link Between Drinking and Breast Cancer Fueled by Hormones

Alcohol and Breast Cancer Risk continued...

Lew says that drinking alcohol also appeared to raise the risk of a more aggressive type of tumor known as estrogen-receptor positive, progesterone-receptor negative, or ER+/PR-. But so few women fell into this category that the finding could have been due to chance.

In women with estrogen-receptor negative, progesterone-receptor negative (ER-/PR-) tumors, there did not appear to be a link between drinking and breast cancer.

Why would drinking raise the risk of hormone-fueled tumors? "Our hypothesis is that alcohol interferes with estrogen metabolism, which in turn increases the risk of hormone-sensitive breast cancer," Lew tells WebMD.

Genes and the Breast Cancer-Alcohol Link

The second study looked at whether our genes may help explain the apparent link between alcohol and breast cancer.

The researchers studied DNA samples from 991 women with breast cancer and 1,698 women without cancer.

They found that variants in two genes involved in metabolizing alcohol -- ADH1B and ADH1C -- raised a postmenopausal woman drinker's risk for breast cancer by up to twofold.

"The higher their alcohol consumption, the higher their risk," says Catalin Marian, MD, PhD, a research instructor of cancer genetics and epidemiology at Georgetown University.

Marian cautions that the work is preliminary and further study is needed.

Alcohol: Good for the Heart, Bad for the Breast?

In the meantime, how should a woman weigh the new findings against reports that a few glasses of wine may be good for the heart?

Platz says that's where individual risk factors come in.

If breast cancer runs in your family, you may want to think twice about drinking regardless of heart risks, she says.

That's because many risk factors for breast cancer, such as genetics or family history, cannot be modified, Platz explains.

With heart disease, on the other hand, there are lifestyle changes such as losing weight and exercise that can lower risk -- without adding drinking to your routine, she says.

The bottom line: "Step back and look at all the different risk factors and talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes," Lew says.

(Do you want the latest news about breast cancer sent directly to your inbox? Sign up for WebMD's breast cancer newsletter.)

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