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Alcoholic beverages linked to higher risk of breast cancer

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Editor's note: Here you can learn something that you can't from New York Times and Washington Post. Every newspaper is saying now that drinking red wine helps reduce breast cancer risk. But only THIS article posted on foodconsumer.org tells you the truth: Red wine and other alcoholic beverages are carcinogens! When it comes to drinking, U.S. physicians recommend if you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation and if you don't, don't get started.

By David Liu, PHD and editing by Stacey Sexton

Sunday Jan 8, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- A new study report circulated in news media says that moderate drinking of red wine may help reduce the risk of breast cancer.  Such a statement is not accurate.

Chrisandra Shufelt, MD, assistant director of the Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and colleagues did not actually find a lower risk for breast cancer associated with drinking red wine when they conducted a study. 

For the study, the researchers randomly assigned 36 premenopausal women to drink red wine for one month and then let them drink white wine for another month. They measured hormones including estradiol (E2), estrone (E1), androstenedione (A), total and free testosterone (T), sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) twice each month during the menstrual cycle.

They found, "Red wine demonstrated higher free T vs. white wine (mean difference 0.64 pg/mL [0.2 SE], p=0.009) and lower SHBG (mean difference −5.0 nmol/L [1.9 SE], p=0.007). E2 levels were lower in red vs. white wine but not statistically significant. LH was significantly higher in red vs. white wine (mean difference 2.3 mIU/mL [1.3 SE], p=0.027); however, FSH was not."

The authors concluded, "Red wine is associated with significantly higher free T and lower SHBG levels, as well as a significant higher LH level vs. white wine in healthy premenopausal women. These data suggest that red wine is a nutritional AI and may explain the observation that red wine does not appear to increase breast cancer risk."

It should be noted that the hormone profile at the time of red wine consumption was compared with that at the time of white wine consumption.  This can only mean that drinking red wine is safer than drinking white wine.  But it does not mean that drinking red wine is better than drinking nothing.

It is possible that drinking red wine is the lesser of two evils in this case.

The bottom line for readers to remember is that alcoholic beverages are carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents, and have been recognized as such by the U.S. National Toxicology Program.  This means that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers, including breast cancer.

This study released in Nov 2011 in Journal of Women's Health in no way could disprove that conclusion.

Previous studies have also linked drinking alcohol with elevated risk of breast cancer.

One study led by Shumin M. Zhang and colleagues from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA concluded that moderate alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk.

Dr. Zhang and colleagues reported in American Journal of Epidemiology in 2006 that women who drank greater than 30 grams per day of alcohol were 32 and 43 percent more likely to be diagnosed with total breast cancer and invasive breast cancer, respectively, compared with those who did not drink. 

But the increased risk was found only in women who had estrogen receptor- and progesterone receptor -positive (ER+/PR+) tumors.  In the case of ER+PR+ tumors, the increased risk was 11 percent for each 10 grams of alcohol per day.

The association between drinking alcohol and breast cancer risk was strongest among those who were currently taking postmenopausal hormones.

The study was based on data from the Women's Health Study (United States, 1992−2004) in which 38,454 women participated.  During an average of 10 years of follow-up, 1,484 cases of total breast cancer (1,190 invasive and 294 in situ) were identified.  At baseline, none of the participants were diagnosed with cancer or cardiovascular disease.

Another study led by Susan M. Gapstur and colleagues of University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that postmenopausal women whose alcohol consumption was 5.0 to 14.9 grams per day and 15.0 or more per day were 88 and 83 percent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, respectively, among users of estrogen, compared with those who did not drink alcohol.

But the association was not found among those who never used hormone therapy.

The researchers found age-adjusted relative risk for those who drank 15.0 or more of alcohol per day was 28 percent higher, compared with that for those who did not drink. After adjustment for age, body mass index, age at first live birth, age at menarche, and family history of breast cancer, those drinking 15 or more grams per day were at a 46 percent higher risk for breast cancer.

This study, also published in American Journal of Epidemiology in 1992, was based on data from the Iowa Women's Health Study, which enrolled 41,837 postmenopausal women aged 55 to 69 years.

A third study that linked drinking alcohol with increased risk of breast cancer was conducted by Naomi E. Allen of University of Oxford in Oxford, UK and colleagues.  It was published in 2008 in Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

This study also found that low and moderate alcohol consumption increased the risk of certain cancers in women, including breast cancer.

Dr. Allen et al. analysed data on 1,280,296 middle-aged women in the UK enrolled in the Million Women Study to see how alcohol consumption would affect the risk of 21 site-specific cancers.   During an average 7.2 years of follow-up, 68,775 invasive cancers were identified.

Increasing alcohol consumption by 10 grams per day was associated with 12 percent increased risk of breast cancer.  Drinking 10 grams of alcohol per day was also associated with increased risk for cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx (10%), liver (24%), rectum (10%) and total cancer (6%).

A fourth study that linked drinking alcohol to elevated risk for breast cancer was conducted by Miriam Garland and colleagues of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.  They found that drinking more than 20 grams per day or 10 drinks per week in the previous year was associated with 23 percent increased risk for breast cancer. For average lifetime alcohol consumption, drinking 10 or more drinks per week was correlated with 20 percent higher risk.

The risk increase was particularly significant for those who drank alcohol at ages 23 to 30.  A total of 116,671 women aged 25 to 42 at baseline were followed for an average 6 years during which 445 cases of invasive breast cancer were identified.

The study was reported in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers &Prevention in 1999.

This is not an exhaustive list of studies that linked alcohol consumption to increased risk of cancer.   There must be more; otherwise the National Toxicology Program would not have listed alcoholic beverages as carcinogens.

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