For those of you enjoying your evening glass of wine or cocktail, you might want to trade it in for some sparkling water instead. Previous research established that alcohol consumption of just one drink per day (4 oz of wine, 1.5 oz of liquor, or a 12 oz beer) is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Since the association is hypothesized to happen through hormonal mechanisms, new research, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, confirms these previous findings and sheds new light on the subject by examining how alcohol appears to affect the risk of breast cancer by subtype.
Using data from the Women’s Health Initiative, which followed women from 40 different sites in the U.S. between 1993 and 1995, the researchers compared reported alcohol consumption and the development of breast cancer among study participants between the beginning of the study and September 2005. Of 87,724 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 years, 2,549 of them developed invasive breast cancer.
The analysis showed a 7% increased risk of developing any type of invasive breast cancer for each drink consumed per day among current drinkers compared to those who never drank, and a 27% increase in risk if the women had 7 to 13.9 drinks per week. On closer analysis, however, the data indicated a 13% greater risk for developing invasive lobular carcinoma for each drink per day compared to not drinking at all, but no significant increased risk for developing invasive ductal carcinoma. Furthermore, the risk for lobular breast cancer increased by dramatically for women who consumed 14 or more drinks per week compared to those who never drank. Lobular carcinoma is a cancer located in the anatomy of the breast where milk is produced (the lobules), whereas ductal is in the part that carries milk from the lobule to the nipple (the ducts). Ductal carcinoma is the more common form of breast cancer in the U.S.
When the researchers dug deeper, they found the highest increased risk to be for lobular cancer that was hormone receptor-positive, a finding which is consistent with the hypothesis that alcohol indeed exerts its influence on breast cancer via hormonal mechanisms. As the researchers point out, survival rates are higher for both types of tumors than for ductal or hormone receptor-negative ones. Since previous research had not reached such specific conclusions, this new information helps clarify the way in which alcohol puts us at risk.
Since alcohol consumption was assessed only at the beginning of the study, there is possibility of error. However, this study had several strengths. First, the cohort was very large and varied. Second, it is currently the largest single study examining alcohol and breast cancer subtype– as well as hormone receptor status of the tumors– in postmenopausal women. Third, it is the first such study to look at this relationship over time. For these reasons, the findings are important. If you are concerned about your risk for breast cancer, you might want to consider cutting back on or eliminating alcohol. Instead, try one of these non-alcoholic “spirits”:
- Virgin Mary – Perfect for brunch, a vodka free bloody mary and full of vitamin C like the original.
- Mock Mojito – Refreshing in the summer sun!
- Sparkling Tea – Looks like champagne and tastes delicious. Try Golden Star White Jasmine, and you might be hooked.