MONDAY, April 9 (HealthDay News) -- Teenage girls and young
adult women who drink even moderate amounts of alcohol appear to
increase their risk of developing breast changes that can lead to
cancer, according to a large new study.
The study, which followed more than 29,000 females, found that
for each 10 grams of alcohol (the equivalent of about one drink)
consumed each day, the risk of developing these noncancerous cells
and lesions -- called proliferative benign breast disease (BDD) --
increased 15 percent.
"It's clear that this study shows that late adolescent alcohol [drinking] drives up the risk of these preliminary benign changes in the breast," said Dr. Graham Colditz, a professor of surgery and associate director for prevention and control at the Siteman Cancer Center of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
"The risk is substantial," Colditz said. The good news? Young women who are aware of the link can change their behavior, he said.
The study, published online April 9, appears in the May print
A link between alcohol and breast cancer has already been
established. Adult women who drink two to five alcoholic drinks a
day have 1.5 times the risk of breast cancer compared to
nondrinkers, according to the American Cancer Society.
But the mechanism behind that association is not clear, and the
researchers wanted to see if high levels of folate, a B vitamin,
could offset the effects of alcohol, as some previous reports have
Alcohol is thought to hamper the availability of folate,
especially in heavy drinkers. Too little folate, in turn, can
abnormally affect DNA.
Colditz and his colleagues evaluated data from the Nurses'
Health Study II to focus on earlier drinking habits. The women, who
were free of cancer and benign breast disease at the study's start,
answered questions about alcohol and folate intake.
"We looked at the alcohol intake between ages 18 and 22, and we converted it into drinks per day," he said.
Colditz's team found folate intake had no effect on benign
breast disease, but alcohol did.
About one-fourth of those surveyed did not drink as teens and
young adults. About 11 percent had high intake, drinking the
equivalent of 1.5 drinks a day or more. The others had low or
moderate drinking patterns.
After an average follow-up of 10 years, the researchers found
659 cases of benign breast disease. The more alcohol a woman
consumed, the greater the likelihood she would develop the breast
changes, the researchers said.
Experts said the findings are a matter of concern.
"Alcohol consumption even during young adulthood does appear to play an important role in adverse breast health," said Susan Gapstur, vice president of the epidemiology research program for the American Cancer Society.
Not everyone with proliferative benign breast disease gets
breast cancer, of course. However, benign breast disease "is an
important, consistent risk factor," Gapstur said.
Dr. Jonathan Espenschied, director of graduate medical education
and clinical training at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer
Center in Duarte, Calif., said the study clearly suggests that
health behaviors during adolescence and young adulthood affect
In his work with young adult and teen patients, Espenschied said
he tries to educate them about drinking, instead of telling them
not to drink. "I would want them to be aware of alcohol consumption
and what it can do, not just in terms of breast cancer," he said.
"They are young adults and they are going to make their own
While the study uncovered an association between adolescent
alcohol use and benign breast disease, it did not prove a
To learn more about the risk factors for breast cancer, visit
American Cancer Society.
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.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.