Study Sheds New Light on Alcohol and Breast Cancer Risk
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A new study, entitled the “Nurse’s Health Study” has correlated a heightened risk for breast cancer in women who regularly consume alcohol. In an observational, longitudinal (1980 to 2008) study involving 105,000 women, nearly 7700 cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in women who reported consuming three to six alcoholic drinks every week. However, binge drinking was more associated with the risk of developing breast cancer than frequency of drinking after controlling for overall alcohol consumption.
This study was different from previous other studies by the fact they place a greater importance on the role of alcohol consumption at various stages in a woman’s life. In addition, it adjusted for factors that may increase the risk of breast cancer (first pregnancy, ionizing radiation and genetics), was also taken into consideration while conducting this study as well.
Low Levels of Alcohol Consumption Significantly Associated with Breast Cancer Risk
Women who consumed as little as 2 *drinks of alcohol per day were at a greater risk of contracting breast cancer than women who abstained from drink any alcohol.
While most studies investigating the viability of an association between breast cancer and alcohol consumption concerned women who drank moderately or heavily, research into the effects of low-level alcohol drinking has never been accurately quantified. The recent JAMA study consisting of Registered Nurses, concluded that even low levels of alcohol consumption was modestly but significantly associated with breast cancer risk. Low levels of alcohol consumption was considered to be
The Effects of Cumulative Alcohol Consumption
-The Nurse’s Health Study concluded that higher levels of cumulative alcohol consumption either early or late adult life were highly associated with risk of breast cancer. The most consistent measure, however, was the overall cumulative alcohol intake throughout an adult’s life.
Red Wine and Breast Cancer Risk
In contrast to “hard” alcohol’s affect on women’s health, another study indicates that moderate red wine consumption may yield positive health benefits by slightly decreasing estrogen levels. Grape seeds and skins used to make red wine contain antioxidants and compounds that seem to protect cells from abnormally proliferating and developing into cancerous tumors. Alternately, white wine doesn’t offer this protective activity but neither does it increase the risk of cancer.
Possible Mechanisms Behind the Alcohol-Breast Cancer Risk
One plausible explanation for alcohol consumption increasing the risk of breast cancer in women involves the ability for alcohol to elevate circulating estrogen and plasma sex hormone levels. Alcohol also appears to decrease liver catabolism of androgens and stimulate activity of a estrogen receptors that may enhance sensitivity of breast tissue to estrogen.
The National Cancer Institute identifies other ways that alcohol is thought to increase the risk of breast cancer and cancer in general:
- When ethanol is metabolized in the body, it changes to acetaldehyde, a toxic and potentially carcinogenic substance that damages DNA and proteins.
- Alcohol generates reactive oxygen species (free radicals) that can harm proteins, lipids and DNA through oxidation.
- Alcohol inhibits the break down and assimilation of nutrients (especially vitamin A, C, D, E and B complex) that may reduce the risk of developing cancer
The NCI also reports that alcoholic beverages could contain carcinogenic contaminants introduced during fermentation and processing. Contaminants found in alcohol include asbestos fibers, hydrocarbons, nitrosamines and phenols.
What You Can Do to Reduce the Risk of Breast Cancer
In addition to abstaining from alcohol (especially “hard” liquors such as whiskey, vodka and rum), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control states that women may lower their chance of getting breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising at several hours per week, getting enough sleep, avoiding exposure to radiation and known carcinogens and investigating the efficacy and risks of hormone replacement therapy during menopause. Moreover, mammograms cannot prevent breast cancer but they can detect cancer in its initial stages so that early treatment typically leads to an excellent prognosis.
*standard drink is any drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol
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