Can a glass of wine at lunch or a couple of drinks after work increase the risk for breast cancer over the course of a woman’s lifetime?
Alcohol abuse has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer for some time, but what doctors didn’t know is how lower or moderate patterns of drinking over the course of a woman’s lifetime impact the risk.
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association recently revealed an answer to that question. Dr. Wendy Chen, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains.
“There was a modest but statistically significant increase in breast cancer risk regardless of what time in her life she consumed that alcohol,” she said.
Researchers followed more than 100,000 nurses beginning in 1976 and studied their alcohol use between ages 18 and 40 to see how the risk for breast cancer increased with moderate alcohol consumption – somewhere between three and six drinks per week.
The amount of alcohol women drink may not stay the same over their entire lifetime and that may affect their risk of developing the disease.
“Alcohol during early adult life is independently associated with breast cancer risk in addition to alcohol consumption later in adult life,” Chen said.
The good news from the study is that women can decrease their risk of breast cancer any time in their life simply by drinking less. Changes in drinking patterns need to be held consistently over time to be effective, Chen said.
While the study did find an increased risk, researchers say the study is not a call for women to stop drinking all together.
“In terms of a woman’s overall health, alcohol may have some benefits in terms of cardiovascular disease prevention,” Chen said. “So that will need to be balanced against any risk of breast cancer.”
Two or fewer alcoholic drinks per week was not associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.