Choice of Alcoholic Beverage Plays No Role in Increased Risk of Breast Cancer
> 9/28/2007 10:11:15 AM

Heavy drinking, that is the consumption of 3 drinks a day or more, contributes the same risk as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day to a woman's likelihood of getting breast cancer, this according to a new study released this week by Kaiser Permanente. The researchers, who work with Kaiser's Research Division in Oakland, culled information from medical examinations of 70,033 women performed between 1978 and 1985. They combined information from those exams with recent health information from the subjects to identify factors that could be responsible for increased risk of breast cancer.

By comparing rates of alcohol intake, as well as type of beverage consumed, the team determined that while the beverage type—beer, wine, or liquor—had no bearing on increased risk, overall intake was predictive. In a press release from Kaiser Permanente, one of the study's authors, Dr. Arthur Klasky, spoke about the findings:

Results were similar when researchers looked at groups stratified by age and ethnicity. "Statistical analyses limited to strata of wine preferrers, beer preferrers, spirits preferrers or non-preferrers each showed that heavier drinking – compared to light drinking – was related to breast cancer risk in each group. This strongly confirms the relation of ethyl alcohol to increased risk," said Klatsky.

"A 30 percent increased risk is not trivial. To put it into context, it is not much different from the increased risk associated with women taking estrogenic hormones. Incidentally, in previous research completed at Kaiser Permanente, we have found that smoking a pack of cigarettes or more per day is related to a similar (30 percent) increased risk of breast cancer," Klatsky said.

Kaiser's study sheds new light on the risks of alcohol consumption, especially for those whose alcohol habits could be described as excessive. The real trouble here, as in other longitudinal assessments, is that the damage being done may not make itself known for some time. Similar to smoking, excessive drinking is a behavioral change that can have a significant effect on future risk of breast cancer. While several other forms of cancer have been linked with drinking, the information presented here by Kaiser represents one of the strongest warnings of the potential harm. Cutting down on alcohol, it now seems, can hold benefits beyond the immediate physical improvements and easing of long term damage to organ systems, to also include reducing risk of future breast cancer.

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