Teen Drinking Linked to Benign Breast Disease
Study Shows Alcohol Use by Teenage Girls May Raise Risk of Noncancerous Breast Lumps
April 12, 2010 --Teenage and adolescent girls who regularly consume alcohol
may be at greater risk for developing benign breast disease in their 20s than
their teetotaling counterparts, Harvard researchers report in the May issue of
Pediatrics. Benign breast disease or noncancerous lumps, bumps or cysts
in the breast are known risk factors for breast cancer.
"These findings raise concern because alcohol intakes by college students
has increased greatly in recent years, whereas drinking by adult women is one
of few known dietary risk factors for breast cancer," conclude the
researchers, who were led by Catherine S. Berkey, ScD, a lecturer in medicine
at Harvard Medical School, and a research associate at Brigham and Women's
Hospital, in Boston. "If future work confirms our findings, then clinical
efforts to delay the onset of alcohol consumption may prevent some cases of
benign breast disease and breast cancer."
Girls were aged 9 to 15 when the Growing Up Today Study began. They answered
questionnaires from 1996 to 2001, and then again in 2003, 2005, and 2007. The
questions about alcohol consumption in the previous year were a part of the
During the 2005 and 2007 surveys, the participants were asked about benign
breast disease; 147 women said they had been diagnosed with it and 67 of these
women said this diagnosis was confirmed with a biopsy.
Those participants who drank alcohol six to seven days per week were more
than five times as likely to develop benign breast disease as their
counterparts who abstained. The teens and adolescent women who drank three to
five days per week had three times the risk of developing benign breast disease
as their counterparts who did not drink alcohol, the study showed.
Exactly how alcohol use during the teen years raises risk for benign breast
disease is not fully understood, but the researchers speculate that alcohol use
may increase levels of the female sex hormone estrogen, which may foster the
development of benign lumps, bumps, and cysts in the breasts.
"The breasts of young girls are very active and if you give them extra
hormones or alcohol, then they can respond by creating lumps and bumps and
things in the category of benign breast disease, and if you keep this going, it
can increase the risk of breast cancer," says Marisa Weiss, MD, the president
and founder of advocacy group Breastcancer.org and the author of several books,
including Taking Care of Your Girls: A Breast Health Guide for Girls,
Teens, and In-Betweens. "You are laying the foundation for your future
breast health during adolescence," says Weiss, who is also the director of
Breast Radiation Oncology and the director of Breast Health Outreach at
Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, Penn.
"The habits that you develop as an adolescent are likely to turn into
lifelong habits, and we know that drinking in adult women is a risk factor for
breast cancer," she says.