Alcohol Increases Breast Cancer Risk

30% More Breast Cancer With More Than 3 Daily Drinks of Wine, Beer, or Spirits

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 27, 2007 - Whatever your pleasure -- beer, wine, or spirits -- more than three daily drinks ups your risk of breast cancer by 30%.

That's the same increase in breast cancer risk you'd get from smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, find Kaiser Permanente researchers Yan Li, MD, PhD, and colleagues.

Studies consistently find that heavy drinking -- more than three drinks a day -- increases breast cancer risk. But Li and colleagues previously found that red wine has a number of health benefits. Might it also be less risky for breast cancer?

"It doesn't matter if you drink red wine or white wine. If you are a heavy drinker -- more than three drinks a day -- you will have an additional 30% risk of breast cancer," Li tells WebMD.

Does the type of beverage make any difference at all?

"We found it does not make much of a difference whether a woman drinks beer, wine, or liquor: It is the alcohol itself," Li says.

Li and colleagues looked at data in on more than 70,000 women in the Kaiser Permanente database. The women supplied information on themselves and on their drinking habits during doctor visits from 1978 through 1985. The researchers then looked at whether the women had breast cancer by 2004.

Just over 2,800 of the women did get breast cancer. Women who drank one or two drinks a day had a 10% higher chance of breast cancer than women who drank less than a drink a day. But it tookmore than three drinks a day to increase that risk to 30%.

Shumin Zhang, MD, ScD, associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, has also found that frequent drinking raises a woman's risk of breast cancer. She did not participate in the Li study.

"Many studies have reported an association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk in women," Zhang tells WebMD. "The current findings are generally consistent with previous research."

Zhang notes that while alcohol is a definite breast cancer risk, more studies are needed to confirm the link between cigarette smoking and breast cancer.

Li says that it's important for women who drink to be aware of the risks as well as the benefits. Recent studies have linked alcohol consumption to a lower risk of heart disease. Other studies disagree. Whatever the heart benefit, Li says, heavy drinking comes with a breast cancer risk.

Even for people who are not alcoholics, drinking several drinks a day is bad for health.

Li reported the findings in a presentation to the European Cancer Conference, held Sept. 23-27 in Barcelona, Spain.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 27, 2007


SOURCES: European Cancer Conference, Barcelona, Spain, Sept. 23-27. News release, Kaiser Permanente. Yan Li, MD, PhD, oncologist, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif. Shumin Zhang, MD, ScD, associate professor of medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston.

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