MONDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Although experts have long
suspected alcohol to be a breast cancer risk factor, new research
suggests it's most strongly linked to certain breast tumor
Researchers reporting in the Aug. 24 issue of the
Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that women who
drank one alcoholic beverage a day were at higher risk for
developing estrogen receptor- and progesterone receptor-positive
Alcohol consumption was also connected with an increased risk
for noninvasive breast cancers, but not for invasive tumors.
Alcohol is probably not the only factor at play here, added Dr.
Gretchen Kimmick, an associate professor of medicine at Duke
University Medical Center.
"It's not a surprising finding, [but] when they stratified by hormone replacement therapy use, the effect went away, so this probably has to do with quite a few other things, not just alcohol," she said.
For this study, researchers followed almost 88,000
postmenopausal American women participating in the Women's Health
Initiative study from 1993 to 1998.
Women reported how much they drank but only at one point in
time: They did not provide information on their history of alcohol
consumption, nor was the information updated as the study
Women who imbibed seven or more drinks a week had a higher risk
of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, but only lobular
carcinoma, not ductal carcinoma, which is the more common type.
This was in comparison to teetotalers.
"It was a little bit surprising that for most common type of breast cancer, ductal breast cancer, we didn't find any association with alcohol," noted study lead author Dr. Christopher Li, a full member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. "It was really restricted to lobular cancer, where the magnitude of risk was much stronger than what we see for breast cancer overall."
The risk of tumors that were both estrogen receptor-positive and
progesterone receptor-positive increased by 8 percent per drink per
day. The risk of estrogen receptor-positive but progesterone
receptor-negative cancers increased by 12 percent per drink per
Both lobular cancers and hormone receptor-positive cancers have
better survival rates than the others.
"Minimizing alcohol intake will decrease breast cancer risk, and there are a lot of things we know that increase risk similar to what alcohol does. No one factor in particular is going to cause breast cancer in itself. They're probably all related and we're trying to figure out what the multiple factors are that cause breast cancer for women," Kimmick said.
"We know that alcohol is a well established risk factor associated with breast cancer. What was unique about this study is that they tried to differentiate the type of cancer," said Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, a breast health specialist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "There are so many different varieties of cancer, invasive ductal being the most common, representing about 70 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses."
While the findings don't have much clinical relevance -- since
women don't know beforehand if or what type of breast cancer they
might develop -- Pruthi suggested that this might spur research
into whether other risk factors, for example, having your first
period very young, might be associated with specific types of
"This shows that alcohol is a risk [factor] for developing breast cancer, and I think that women should be counseled that [drinking alcohol] does increase risk of breast cancer," added Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La. "Women should be advised [of the risk] but she has to make a decision how important having alcohol in her life is."
American Cancer Society has information on how
alcohol is related to different types of cancers.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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