New Study Adds More Support to Connection Between Risk and Regularly Drinking Any Amount of Alcohol

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Research has consistently shown that regularly drinking alcohol increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Results from a new study support the connection between regularly drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol – as little as one drink per day – and cancer risk: Alcohol is responsible for about one of every 30 cancer deaths (3.5%) in the United States each year.

The study was published online on Feb. 14, 2013 by the American Journal of Public Health. Read the abstract of “Alcohol-Attributable Cancer Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost in the United States.”

Experts at the Boston University School of Medicine, the National Cancer Institute, the Alcohol Research Group, and others worked together on the study. They gathered information on how much alcohol people drank as well as deaths from cancer in 2009. They then used mathematical formulas to figure out alcohol’s role in contributing to deaths from seven types of cancer, including breast cancer. The study is the most comprehensive done in 30 years.

In 2009, about 560,000 people died from cancer. Of those deaths, nearly 20,000 (3.5%) were caused by alcohol-related cancers, according to the study. People who drink heavily (more than three drinks per day) have the highest risk of cancer, but even regular drinkers have an increased risk. The researchers found that people who have 1.5 drinks or fewer per day represent about 30% of all alcohol-related cancer deaths.

Most of the alcohol-related female cancer deaths were due to breast cancer (56% to 66%). Pharynx, larynx, oral, and esophageal cancer was responsible for most male cancer deaths (53% to 71%). Chief Medical Officer Marisa Weiss, M.D., discusses alcohol and breast cancer risk in her Nov. 9, 2011 Think Pink, Live Green Expert Column.

It's not clear why drinking alcohol increases breast cancer risk. Many studies have shown that hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer is most affected by alcohol. Estrogen can cause hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer to grow, and alcohol can increase the amount of estrogen in a woman's body. This estrogen increase may partly explain the link.

The results of the study discussed here support the results of many other large studies linking alcohol and breast cancer risk. Many of these studies, including this one, suggest that drinking any amount of alcohol regularly seems to increase cancer risk. If you want to do everything you can to lower your risk of breast cancer (or breast cancer coming back), drinking two drinks or fewer per week makes sense.

Regularly drinking alcohol is a habit that often starts in early adulthood. You might want to talk to your daughters, granddaughters, and other young women in your life about the link between alcohol and breast cancer risk.

To learn more about how you can keep your risk of breast cancer as low as it can be, visit the Lower Your Risk section.

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