Page last updated: Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Light-to-Moderate Drinking Has Little Effect on Risk of Breast Cancer
In an effort to clarify the relationship between alcohol consumption and the risk of developing breast cancer, a new study has examined the influence of alcohol intake and type of beverage on breast cancer in relation to menopausal status. Findings support previous research showing that heavy drinking increases risk for breast cancer, predominantly among premenopausal women; however, this risk exists independent of alcohol type. Also that light-to-moderate drinking appears to have little effect on a woman’s risk for breast cancer.

Morten Grønbæk, professor of alcohol research at the Centre for Alcohol Research at the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark stated that he and his colleagues chose to examine what effects the type of alcohol may play in cancer development due to some of their earlier research. “In quite a few previous studies, we have suggested that wine drinkers, in contrast to beer and spirits drinkers, seem to be at a lower risk for some cancers such as upper digestive tract cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer,” he said. “There are several plausible biological mechanisms which may explain this, including the fact that wine comprises flavonoids and resveratrol, which have been shown to have ‘anti-carcinogenic’ properties.”

In addition, said Grønbæk, “the reason for looking at menopausal status is that it is very likely that development of breast cancer may have different etiologies depending on hormonal status, and this may be influenced by alcohol intake.”

For this study, researchers used data gathered through the Copenhagen Centre for Prospective Population Studies, a six-cohort examination of health-related issues. The study population comprised 13,074 women, aged 20 to 91 years. Researchers used self-administered questionnaires to ask about alcohol intake, smoking habits, weight and height, physical activity in leisure time, children, use of hormone replacement therapy, menopausal status, and educational levels.  

Analysis indicates that alcohol consumption of more than 27 drinks per week considered heavy drinking ­ increases the risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women, independent of alcohol type.  

“Our study confirms earlier reports that heavy alcohol consumption is a risk for breast cancer,” said Grønbæk, “In this case, mainly among premenopausal women. The second main finding is that there seems to be no difference in the effect of the different types of alcohol, which indicates that it is ethanol itself and not the type of drink that is responsible for breast-cancer development.”

R. Curtis Ellison, professor of medicine & public health and director of the Institute on Lifestyle & Health at Boston University School of Medicine said, “I believe this study demonstrates very well that light-to-moderate drinking of alcohol has very little effect on a woman’s risk of breast cancer. These findings support the results of numerous other studies showing that an increase in breast-cancer risk, if present, is very slight. The study also has enough moderate drinkers of wine in it to be able to say that it does not support the protection against breast cancer from wine consumption.”

Source: Petri AL et al. Alcohol Intake, Type of Beverage, and Risk of Breast Cancer in Pre- and Postmenopausal Women. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research 2004;28:1084-90.

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