Over Time, Even Low Alcohol Consumption Increases Breast Cancer Risk
Some sobering news for women who drink alcohol. A new study published in the November 2 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association finds that even the regular consumption of a modest amount of alcohol, defined as 3 to 6 glasses of wine per week, increases a woman's risk of breast cancer by a small but statistically significant amount.
The 28-year study, which began in 1980 and ended in 2008, looked at 105,986 women, aged 30 to 55 years old, whose average alcohol intake was "fairly similar" to that of American women in general.
While larger amounts of alcohol use were, not surprisingly, associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, the study also delves into the effects of "low levels of drinking" on breast cancer risk, which according to the authors, has not been well quantified in the past.
Although Dr. Wendy Chen of Harvard Medical School and her coauthors found the risk to be statistically significant in women who consumed as little as to 3 to 6 drinks per week, they also described this 15% increase in risk as "quite small." Meanwhile, drinking an average of 6 to 12 drinks a week resulted in a 22% increase in risk, while drinking large quantities, roughly around 18 drinks a week, resulted in a 51% increase in risk, compared with consuming no alcohol at all.
As with most other things else in life, moderation is key.
"I tell my patients to limit consumption to a few drinks per week or less, which is what I also practice," Dr. Chen said. "It is important to remember that we were looking at cumulative average alcohol intake over a long period of time."
She also suggested that alcohol be consumed strategically, explaining that if "someone is on vacation or wants to 'unwind' by having a few extra drinks, they can offset that by drinking less at other time points."
Of course, other variables such as menopausal status, body mass index, family history, and cigarette smoking should be considered, and as with most other lifestyle choices, when making individual decisions about alcohol use, any breast cancer risk must be weighed against the "beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease."
Now that is something we can all raise our glasses to.
[image via The Telegraph]