Teen girls drinking may raise breast cancer risk

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One study led by Berkey C.S. and colleagues from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School suggests teenagers and young women drinking alcohol may be at elevated risk of breast cancer in their adulthood.

The study published April 12 in Pediatrics examined the association between adolescent drinking and risk of biopsy-confirmed benign breast disease (BBD) in teens and young women. BBD can develop to become breast cancer.

For the study, Berkey and colleagues surveyed 6,899 girls aged 18 to 27 for their drinking habits and diagnosis of BBD and found 147 were diagnosed with BBD and 67 with biopsy-confirmed BBD. 

The researchers compared girls with BBD with those without and found one drink per day was linked to 50 percent increased risk for BBD.  Girls who typically drank 6 or 7 days per week were 5.5 times as likely as those who did not drink or drank less than once a week to develop benign breast disease.

The findings suggest that drinking alcohol at young ages may increase risk of breast cancer in adulthood.

Alcoholic beverages have been officially recognized as cancer-causing agents by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, a federal health agency under the Department of Health and Human services.

Numerous studies have generated evidence leading to the same conclusion - drinking alcohol increases risk of cancer including breast cancer.

One population study led by Beasley J.M and colleagues from Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington suggests the same thing, drinking alcohol increases risk of breast cancer.

The study published in the Feb 13 2010 issue of Cancer Causes and Control looked at data from 1,000 incident breast cancer cases aged 35 to 69 and 1,074 controls matched on age, region, and health care system.  Participants were surveyed for cancer risk factors and dietary habits. 57 percent of cases and 45 percent of controls reported ever drinking alcohol.

The researchers found that compared to those who reported never drinking alcohol, women who reported ever drinking alcohol were at 25 percent increased risk for breast cancer.  

The effect is modified by the folate status. Among those with low levels of folate, the increase in the breast cancer was 99 percent compared to 12 percent among those who had high levels.

Lew J. Q. and colleagues from Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics reported another study in the Aug 2009 issue of American Journal Epidemiology saying alcohol has different effects on different types of breast cancer.

The researchers examined data from 184,418 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 71 years who participated in the National Institute of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study and found during an average of 7 years of follow-up, 5,461 breast cancer cases were identified.

They found even a moderate alcohol intake (less than 10 grams per day) was significantly positively associated with breast cancer risk.  Women who drank 35 grams a day were 35 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who drank no alcohol. The risk was increased by 46 percent for ductal tumors and 52 percent for lobular tumors.

The risks for ER+/PR+, ER+/PR- and ER-/PR- were increased 46 percent among those drinking more than 35 grams per day, 13 percent among those drinking more than 20 grams per day, and 21 percent among those drinking greater than 20 grams per day, respectively, compared to those who drank zero grams a day.

They concluded that moderate consumption of alcohol was associated with breast cancer, particularly hormone receptor positive tumors.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in more than 170,000 women each year in the United States and the disease kills about 50,000 annually in the country.

David Liu

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