-- Randy Dotinga
MONDAY, Nov. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking alcohol may be
especially risky for young women who have a strong family history
of breast cancer, including having mothers, grandmothers or aunts
with the disease, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St.
Louis examined data on more than 9,000 girls, all daughters of
nurses, from 1996 (when they were aged 9 to 15) through 2007.
They focused on 67 participants who were later diagnosed between
the ages of 18 and 27 with benign breast disease, a large class of
conditions that can cause breast lumps or pain and can be a risk
factor for breast cancer.
The researchers found that women who have a family history of
breast cancer or breast disease were about twice as likely to
develop both benign breast disease and breast cancer than women
with no family history of the disease.
Risk of benign breast disease rose along with how much alcohol
the young women consumed, according to the study.
In young women with no family history of breast disease, alcohol
consumption wasn't associated with an increased chance of benign
The study is published in the Nov. 14 online issue of the
It's possible that young women who are especially prone to
develop breast cancer can reduce their risk of benign breast
disease by avoiding alcohol, researchers said in a university news
"The most common question we hear from women with a family history of breast disease is: 'How can we prevent breast cancer in our daughters?'" said senior study author Dr. Graham Coldtiz, a professor of surgery. "This points to a strategy to lower risk -- or avoid increasing risk -- by limiting alcohol intake."
But Dr. Anees Chagpar, director of The Breast Center at Smilow
Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, questioned the findings, noting
that the number of participants diagnosed with benign breast
disease is small and the lack of required biopsies makes it hard to
know whether many other women in the study also had the
"Benign breast disease is a spectrum of changes -- from simple cysts and fibrocystic change, which do not significantly increase one's risk of developing breast cancer, all the way to atypical ductal hyperplasia and lobular carcinoma in situ, which -- while not pre-malignant nor frankly cancerous -- impose a significant increased risk," Chagpar said.
"Many women have fibrocystic change which we've come to realize is really quite ubiquitous and part of the spectrum of 'normal,'" she said. "Patients with such simple cysts should be reassured, and while vigilance in terms of screening is always advisable, they also need to know that this does not increase their risk of cancer."
In the big picture, however, "we know that alcohol increases
breast cancer risk," she said. The question, she said, is whether
it does that by increasing the risk of benign breast disease.
"I do think at-risk individuals should exercise moderation in their alcohol consumption, since excessive alcohol is known to increase one's risk of breast cancer," she said.
A study in the Nov. 2 issue of the
Journal of the American Medical Association found that as few
as three alcoholic drinks a month was associated with a slightly
increased risk of breast cancer.
In that study, which looked at data on 106,000 women, women who
drank the equivalent of three to six glasses of wine were 15
percent more likely to develop breast cancer than women who never
or rarely drank. Women who consumed much more alcohol -- about two
glasses of wine or the equivalent beer/liquor a day -- had a 51
percent increased chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer
during nearly three decades of follow-up.
For more on
benign breast disease, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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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