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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Light Drinking Over Time May Raise Breast Cancer Risk

Routinely Drinking as Little as Three Drinks a Week Can Raise Breast Cancer Risk, Study Finds

ACS: No More than One Drink a Day continued...

The latest findings from the study do not change this recommendation, ACS vice president of epidemiology Susan Gapstur, PhD, tells WebMD.

"This study and others found that heavy drinking was associated with the biggest risk, so the message to avoid heavy drinking is clear," Gapstur says, adding that the message about light to moderate drinking is more nuanced.

That is because moderate alcohol intake may protect the heart and lower a woman’s risk for heart attack and stroke.

She recommends that women talk to their doctors and consider their individual risk for breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

Chen and colleagues agree, concluding that the risks and benefits of light to moderate alcohol consumption have to be considered on an individual basis.

Is Lifestyle Impact Overstated?

Breast cancer researcher Steven A. Narod, MD, PhD, says the surprising finding from the study is that the effect of alcohol consumption on breast cancer risk appears to be cumulative.

Narod is chairman of breast cancer research at the Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto.

"If alcohol increases risk, it does not come down to how much a woman drank over the last year but how much she drank over the last 20 years," he tells WebMD.

Because most of the breast cancers in the study population occurred in postmenopausal women, Narod says the findings do not really address the role of alcohol use on breast cancers in younger women.

"We know precious little about the role of lifestyle, if any, on the development of breast cancers in premenopausal women," he says.

Avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising have all been linked to a reduction in breast cancer risk in older women.

But Narod believes the importance of these lifestyle factors on breast cancer has been overstated.

"If every woman stopped drinking and every woman who was overweight lost weight, the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer might be reduced by 10%, but that isn’t going to happen," he says.

Chen concedes that the impact of lifestyle on breast cancers at the population level may be modest, but she says the impact for an individual woman may be huge.

“It is true that we won’t prevent all breast cancers by changing lifestyle, but we will prevent some,” she says

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