Alcohol Raises Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence
Study Shows Drinking More Than 3 Drinks a Week Is Linked to Return of Cancer
WebMD News Archive
Dec. 10, 2009 (San Antonio) -- If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer,
you may want to cut down on alcoholic beverages.
That's the suggestion of researchers who found that cancer is 34% more
likely to come back in breast cancer survivors who drink more than three drinks
a week, compared with those who abstain or drink less.
Drinking more than three drinks a week also raised the risk of dying from
breast cancer by 51%, says Marilyn L. Kwan, PhD, a staff scientist at Kaiser
Permanente in Oakland, Calif.
"Women with breast cancer who are postmenopausal or overweight seem to be
most susceptible to the effects of alcohol," she tells WebMD.
The findings were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
Previous research has linked alcohol to an increased risk of developing
breast cancer, but little is known about alcohol's effect on women who have
already been diagnosed with the disease.
So Kwan and colleagues followed 1,897 women who had been successfully
treated for early-stage breast cancer between 1997 and 2000. About a year after
diagnosis, they were asked whether they drank alcohol, how much they drank, and
their drink of choice.
Over the next eight years, 349 of the women suffered a recurrence of their
breast cancer, and 332 died of the disease.
"We don't think the type of alcohol mattered, but it was difficult to
examine since 90% of the women in our study drank wine," Kwan says. But how
much they drank did matter; women who indulged in two or more glasses of wine
per day were most likely to suffer a recurrence, she says.
It makes sense that alcohol would raise both the risk of developing breast
cancer and the chance that it will come back, Kwan says. "Alcohol increases
levels of estrogen in the body, and breast cancer is fueled by estrogen."
Jeffrey Peppercorn, MD, a breast cancer specialist at Duke University, tells
WebMD that women who are diagnosed with breast cancer often want to know what
they can do to lower their risk of recurrence.
"Limiting alcohol consumption is one step they can take," he says. "I tell
women we're not sure that any amount of alcohol is safe ... but that it would
be prudent to limit consumption except on rare, special occasions."