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Drinking Alcohol at Young Age Linked to Benign Breast Disease

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A study found that teens and young women who regularly drink alcohol seem to have a higher risk of being diagnosed with benign breast disease compared to young women who don't regularly drink.

Benign breast disease is a lump or other abnormal area in breast tissue that isn't cancer but suggests the possibility of cancer. Doctors may monitor some lumps to confirm that they're not cancer or suggest a mammogram or biopsy to evaluate the suspicious area.

The good news is that benign breast disease doesn't threaten your health. Still, benign breast disease can be stressful.

While not part of this study, several other studies have shown that regularly drinking alcohol also increases breast cancer risk.

Researchers reviewed the medical and drinking histories of 6,899 adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 22 who were part the Growing Up Today Study. Their mothers were in a related long-term study called the Nurses Health Study II.

  • 147 teens and young women were diagnosed with benign breast disease
  • 67 breast biopsies were done that led to a diagnosis of benign breast disease

The researchers compared the drinking histories of the teens and young women diagnosed with benign breast disease to the drinking histories of the teens and young women who weren't diagnosed with benign breast disease.

Benign breast disease risk seems to be linked to the amount of alcohol drunk:

  • one or two drinks per week increased risk by 72%; still this nearly double increase in risk wasn't statistically significant, which means that it could have been due to chance and not because of drinking alcohol
  • three to five drinks per week more than tripled risk; this higher risk was statistically significant, which means it was probably because of drinking alcohol
  • drinking almost 7 days per week increased risk more than 5 times; this increased risk also was statistically significant, which means it was probably because of drinking alcohol

This study looked at benign breast disease and not breast cancer, but the results suggest that drinking alcohol at a young age may harm breast tissue. So it's not surprising other research has found that regular drinking also increases the risk of breast cancer.

Limiting or avoiding alcohol is a good idea for every girl and woman who wants to do all she can to lower her risk of breast disease, including breast cancer. You may want to talk to the daughters, granddaughters, and other young women in your life about the effects alcohol can have on health, especially breast health.

Breastcancer.org president and founder Dr. Marisa Weiss and her daughter, Isabel, have written the book Taking Care of Your "Girls:" A Breast Health Guide for Girls, Teens, and In-Betweens. They talk candidly about breast development and breast health -- separating myths from facts and detailing steps everyone can take to improve breast health and reduce breast cancer risk over a lifetime.

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