TUESDAY, April 9 (HealthDay News) -- Women who have survived
breast cancer can drink alcohol in moderation, new research
Overall, moderate drinking before or after a diagnosis of breast
cancer doesn't seem to have a harmful impact on survival from
breast cancer, the study found.
When researchers looked only at moderate drinking before a
breast cancer diagnosis, it was linked with a 15 percent lower risk
of dying from breast cancer compared to nondrinkers, said study
author Polly Newcomb, head of the cancer prevention program at the
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle.
Women who drank moderately before or after a breast cancer
diagnosis had a 25 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular
disease and a 20 percent lower risk of death from other causes
during the 11 years the women were followed.
Newcomb's team found an association, and not a cause-and-effect
relationship, for moderate alcohol intake and survival.
The findings ''should be reassuring to women," said Newcomb, who
is also a research professor at the University of Washington.
It is known that alcohol intake does increase the risk of
getting breast cancer. "Our focus was on breast cancer survivors,"
Newcomb said, as they often wonder whether they should drink
alcohol or not.
Newcomb evaluated nearly 23,000 women. All reported on their
intake of alcohol before diagnosis, and about 5,000 reported on
their intake after. The follow-up was just over a decade, on
The study was published April 8 in the
Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Newcomb evaluated women participating a study of risk factors
for breast cancer sponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute
(NCI). It began in 1988. The smaller follow-up study of drinking
habits after diagnosis included about 5,000 women and was conducted
from 1998 to 2001.
Although the post-diagnosis sample of survivors was smaller,
Newcomb said, those who participated were similar in terms of age
and other characteristics than the non-responders from the bigger
sample, suggesting the findings are credible.
During the follow-up period, 7,780 deaths occurred, including
nearly 3,500 from breast cancer. Newcomb looked at deaths and
Women who had three to six drinks a week -- considered moderate
drinking -- before diagnosis had about a 15 percent lower risk of
death from breast cancer than nondrinkers, she found.
What could explain the difference in alcohol's impact -- that it
raises the risk of getting the disease but doesn't affect the
overall survival? Alcohol intake is thought to raise the risk of
getting breast cancer due to increases in estrogen production,
Newcomb said. It could be the type of breast cancer most likely to
be found among women who drink may simply be more responsive to
therapies that reduce estrogen.
The new findings should be welcome news to women, said Dr. Laura
Kruper, chief of the breast surgery service and co-director of the
breast oncology program at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer
Center, in Duarte, Calif. She was not involved with the new
She said her patients who have gone through breast cancer
treatment often ask her if it's OK to have a glass of wine. Kruper
typically says to go ahead, if they enjoy the glass of wine and
have no reasons not to drink.
The new study, she said, supports other research about alcohol
having a heart-protective effect. The results seem to suggest that
doctors can tell women, when it comes to moderate alcohol intake:
"You don't have to radically change the way you live just because
you have had breast cancer."
The study was funded by the NCI and Komen for the Cure.
To learn more about risks for breast cancer, visit the
American Cancer Society.
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