Last Call? One Alcoholic Drink Per Day Raises Your Breast Cancer Risk

By Martin Brown

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In what has to be considered a classic case of bad timing, given the depth of our nation’s economic blues, a new study in which 1.3 million women ages 50 to 64 participated, has revealed that even modest amounts of alcohol could increase a woman’s risk of cancer. Read about the link between alcohol and breast cancer.

“That’s the take-home message,” said Naomi E. Allen of the University of Oxford, who led the study being published March 4 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. “If you are regularly drinking even one drink per day, that’s increasing your risk for cancer.”

In this, the largest group ever to study the question of whether alcohol increases a woman’s risk of cancer, researchers found that one glass of wine per day poses an increase in the threat of breast cancer, with a less dramatic rise in liver and rectal cancers as well.

At least half of all women in the U.S. drink occasionally, and even the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the government’s official bible on what we should be eating and drinking, says that alcohol can be “beneficial,” allowing women up to one drink a day. Heart researchers have long held that modest amount of alcohol can be beneficial to circulation and heart function. This has set off a long running battle in the various medical disciplines as to alcohol’s risks and benefits.

Still, however, the shear size of the study group, 1.3 million women, makes this one study that cannot be easily ignored.  Out of that large group of women, a total of 69.000 cases of cancer occurred over a ten-year period in which the health of these women was tracked.  A statistical connection to those who drank modestly, moderately, and excessively was also made. From that statistical model researchers were able to conclude that five percent of all cancers diagnosed in women each year are due to low or moderate alcohol consumption. In breast cancers, however, the link to alcohol was more pronounced with drinking accounting for 11 percent of cases, or about 20,000 additional cases each year.

In any group of 1,000 U.S. women up to 75 who consumed an average of one drink a day, the researchers calculated there would be 15 extra cancers; two drinks per day would result in 30 extra cancers and so forth. So there was a clear link indicating that the greater the amounts of alcohol consumed during the week, the greater the risk.

Health researchers appear to agree, in spite of the study’s findings, that while the increased statistical link has a sound basis, there is still no solid evidence from the standpoint of cellular abnormalities that indicates what role alcohol might play in the actual origin of a malignancy.

“Among women, the major cause of death by far during the years of middle age is cancer,” Michael S. Lauer and Paul Sorlie of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute noted in a editorial accompanying the study.

While the numbers can create a degree of concern, Eric Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health is quick to point out: “We can’t use this to scare people away from alcohol. It really comes down to a personal decision based on a woman’s own family history and personal risk factors.”

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