Health Team

Moderate alcohol consumption can increase breast cancer risk

Posted November 1, 2011
Updated November 2, 2011

Alcohol abuse has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer for some time, but what doctors didn’t know is how lower or moderate patterns of drinking over the course of a woman’s lifetime impact the risk.

Can a glass of wine at lunch or a couple of drinks after work increase the risk for breast cancer over the course of a woman’s lifetime?

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association recently revealed an answer to that question. Dr. Wendy Chen, of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains.

“There was a modest but statistically significant increase in breast cancer risk regardless of what time in her life she consumed that alcohol,” she said.

Researchers followed more than 100,000 nurses beginning in 1976 and studied their alcohol use between ages 18 and 40 to see how the risk for breast cancer increased with moderate alcohol consumption – somewhere between three and six drinks per week.

Moderate alcohol consumption can increase breast cancer risk Moderate alcohol consumption can increase breast cancer risk

The amount of alcohol women drink may not stay the same over their entire lifetime and that may affect their risk of developing the disease.

“Alcohol during early adult life is independently associated with breast cancer risk in addition to alcohol consumption later in adult life,” Chen said.

The good news from the study is that women can decrease their risk of breast cancer any time in their life simply by drinking less. Changes in drinking patterns need to be held consistently over time to be effective, Chen said.

While the study did find an increased risk, researchers say the study is not a call for women to stop drinking all together.

“In terms of a woman’s overall health, alcohol may have some benefits in terms of cardiovascular disease prevention,” Chen said. “So that will need to be balanced against any risk of breast cancer.”

Two or fewer alcoholic drinks per week was not associated with an increased risk for breast cancer.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Cleanup on Aisle Cool Nov 4, 2011

    Batcave - totally agree. Plus, I never understood the logic of using nurses. Yes, in theory, they're supposed to know what's healthy and to take care of themselves, but honestly - when's the last time you saw a nurse that wasn't fat?

  • batcave Nov 4, 2011

    this is junk science , genetics , environmental factors , to many variables that you can't control.

  • GoBlue Nov 3, 2011

    So... the solution to avoiding breast cancer is not to moderately drink but to excessively drink.

  • fromRaleigh Nov 3, 2011

    so can breathing...i'm so tired of these reports...newsflash- someday we are going to die, it's not an if but a when.

  • RomneyRyan2012 Nov 2, 2011

    Heard this report on GMA today. Small amount can cut risk of heart disease by larger amount than adds to risk of breast cancer so pretty much take this with a grain of salt. Enjoy your glass of wine...

  • THE OLD - THE NEW Nov 2, 2011

    Got all they could out of smokers, about time the drinking problem was addressed.

  • ajaugenti Nov 2, 2011

    This is crazy stuff!!!!! I'm a beer/wine drinker and now it causes cancer in women?!?!?! ctkane-I'm so sorry that you have cancer at the age of 36, I wish you all the best!!!!!

    Godbless You From Anita!!!!

  • kikinc Nov 2, 2011

    Everything gives you cancer these days. Maybe if we stopped stressing over it, we'd be healthier. Who knows?

    ctkane-Sorry to hear about your cancer. I hope everything works out for you.

  • Jakethesnake Nov 2, 2011

    This is just getting out of hand, theses studies to scare everyone from doing anything because it leads to cancer. I think the studies are all junk

  • country4ever Nov 2, 2011

    Seems like EVERYTHING we eat or do will cause some kind of cancer...I will continue to have my occasional beer and glass of wine.