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A drink a day increases breast cancer risk
November 1st, 2011
03:00 PM ET

A drink a day increases breast cancer risk

Even moderate drinking increases a woman’s breast cancer risk, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The research found as few as three to six glasses of wine a week increased the chance of developing breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer rose with the amount of alcohol consumed, the study found, with the best measure of risk being a woman’s cumulative alcohol consumption throughout her lifetime.

“This study doesn’t tell women, ‘Don’t drink at all,’” said Dr. Wendy Chen, lead author and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “It’s really what someone does on average over a long period of time, not what they did this past month, not what they did this past year.”

Previous studies have shown higher alcohol consumption associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. The effects of moderate drinking had not been calculated before.

In this study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found a 10% increase in risk with each 10 grams (3.5 ounces) per day of alcohol consumed. For example, women who consumed 3-6 glasses of wine per week had a breast cancer risk about 1.15 times higher than women who don’t drink.

There was no difference in cancer risk among wine, beer and liquor when the amount of alcohol in each was considered. Wine has 11 grams of alcohol per 4-ounce serving; beer, 12.8 grams per 12-ounce serving; liquor, 14 grams per standard serving.

Women who drank less than the equivalent of three glasses of wine per week showed no increased risk for breast cancer, the study found.

Chen said the studied showed alcohol added to whatever risk a woman already had for breast cancer. For example, if a woman had a family history of breast cancer, higher alcohol consumption added to that risk, she said.

Because moderate drinking has been associated with a lower death rate for heart disease, Chen said women should weigh the risks and benefits of drinking based on their own health histories.

Chen and her colleagues found no difference in risk based on what point in life the alcohol was consumed.

“Our results highlight the importance of considering lifetime exposure when considering the effect of alcohol” on cancer risk, the study concluded.

Chen and her colleagues used data from The Nurses’ Health Study, which began following more than 120,000 nurses in 1976 and first began asking participants about alcohol consumption in 1980. The researchers compared drinking habits with the 7,690 cases of invasive breast cancer among the nurses being followed.


soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. Tha Chikin

    Okay... so we are told there are benefits to drinking a glass of wine a day... NOW they are saying that doing so will increase your risk or brest cancer by 1%? Which is it? It's good.. NO, it's bad. Can you "specialists" make up your mind?

    No matter what you do, you risk getting cancer... breathing the air, genes, food you eat, etc. I say, do what you do and enjoy life... it's the only one you got. If you want to be a fuddy duddie and not drink; do it, if you want to drink occasionally; do it... just don't hurt anybody in the process. We are all going to die of something some day... might as well have fun until ya reach the finish line.

    November 2, 2011 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marvin

      The only reason they say wine is good is because of the 'good stuff' from grapes. Better idea. Eat grapes or drink grape juice. You'll get the benefits without the added risk of alcohol, tannins or sulphites. We all know alcohol can cause health problems, so if you are worried just leave it behind. 🙂

      November 2, 2011 at 17:41 | Report abuse |
    • elle

      I became alcoholic at a young age, probably influenced by my family's genes. I accepted that I would never be able to drink "normally" or "moderately" and got sober, going on thirty years ago. I always worried (only a litttle, really) that it might raise my risk of heart disease - being unable to drink moderately. (One drink a day! I could not have stuck with one bottle a day!) Anyway, it's true we all have to go some way, but I'm even more grateful now that I've been alcohol-free lo these many years. But the gifts of sobriety are not even so much my phsyical health, which has been excellent (so far, always so far) but in the joy of being able to raise my kid in a sober home, be reliable and hold a job and even bounce back from occasional job loss without dragging my whole world down with me. I don't miss alcohol, and now I miss it that much less.

      November 2, 2011 at 18:06 | Report abuse |
    • Ashley

      Wonderfully put!

      November 2, 2011 at 19:57 | Report abuse |
  2. Dick Zitchy

    Well put, Tha Chikin. Note, it's an increase of 10%, not 1%...though that would not change your point I'm sure. I'm with ya, just enjoy your life. (they do confuse us, though, don't they?)

    November 2, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • A Wife and Mother

      It does seem like they are trying to confuse us! An average woman has a 10% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. The 10% increase they speak of is 10% of the 10% risk an average woman already has – it's an additional 1%. So a woman who drinks lightly/moderately has and 11% risk of developing breast cancer. There was a doctor on GMA this morning who explained it beatifully. She also said that the study has flaws because it relies on women to remember what they ate or drank over the study period. Her advice to her own patients is moderation in all things. I'm convinced that LIFE causes cancer!

      November 2, 2011 at 21:29 | Report abuse |
  3. susan

    this doesn't suprise me,the risks are probably due to the chemicals and preservatives used in the alcohol.
    yes, no matter what you do, you expose yourself to cancer, but we live in a country where the cancer rate has risen to 1 in 3 will get cancer . our government favors big business rather than our health and so things that are banned in other countries are allowed here. It is up to the consumer to really read labels and sometimes research beyond that, since the govt. does not require all chemicals used in the processing of the food to be on the label. I would rather be healthy throughout my whole life, than have to deal with an old age riddled with disease, hospital visits, medicines, and nursing homes. there is enough info on the web, so that you can become an informed consumer and not kill yourself with what you imbibe or eat. I would recommend only buying organic, do not buy anything made with GMO's(corn, soy, wheat, etc). if you can grow your own vegetables or buy local, organic veggies from a farmer's market.if you eat meat, buy only pasture raised, organic. avoid pasteurized or fortified foods, since these have had the vitamins chemically removed and synthetic vitamins added back in. avoid buying things in a box, can, or bag, or if necessary read the labels to make sure there are 1 or 2 ingredients on the package. cook from scratch whenever you can, avoid eating out. i know from experience, how sick you can get from eating processed foods, i am now enjoying great health, while i watch my friends popping med's for so many ailments caused by their typical "what they think is healthy diets".

    November 2, 2011 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. DRW

    Read and learn more about alcohol and cancer here: http:\\anti-cancer.weebly.com

    November 2, 2011 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Steve

    OK we get it, nothing in this world is good for you!!!! If all of these "scientist and researchers" would do something about a cure and stop wasting the time and money on something we already know maybe there would be some GOOD news broadcasted ,tweeted, you tubed, and face booked. I see all of the "fund raisers" being held and promoted but never see any results other than this will kill you, that will kill you, global warming is gonna kill you, the antartic is cracking, the sky is falling, etc etc etc. C'mon Man, live, laugh, and love and you'll be just fine

    November 2, 2011 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • vicky m 54yrsold

      guess u don't have anyone close to u with breast cancer, ,information is power.

      November 4, 2011 at 23:21 | Report abuse |
  6. James

    Bad reductionist science. With the huge number of variables in what is already a very poor diet in this country and the researchers think they can tease out an additional 1% increase in risk of a given woman getting breast cancer. Get real! If you want to reduce your chance of getting breast cancer there are a lot more effective ways than eliminating even small amounts of alcohol. Look at populations around the world that have a fraction of the breast (as well as many other cancers) and see what they eat. This has been done by many researchers. The common denominators is they eat lots of whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes and little animal products. Just that simple. Want to life a long healthy life eat like people used to. Move plants to the center of your plate and meat to the edge, if not off entirely. There is no magic bullet or pill that will allow you to eat all the burgers, steaks, milkshakes, and omlettes you want and not suffer the consequences.

    November 3, 2011 at 00:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ashleigh Kirk

    I totally agree James. And how did the researches even know how much the women drank? Did they video them every second? And the study said there were 120000 participants since 1976, and 7600 had breast cancer. How does this fit with 1 in 10ish women getting breast cancer in their lifetime?

    November 3, 2011 at 01:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. vicky m 54yrsold

    all i can say is that i fall into that catagory of women drinking several glasses of wine a week, diiner 2or 3 with company , a glass while reading my book lunch with the girl 1 or 2 befor u know it 6 or 7 drinks a week is easily done, I was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer it also raises the estrogen and all this fulcuation is a feeder also, all i know is i am fortunated enough to have one of the "TOP DOC'S IN PHIL" and she explained this to me a year ago, broke my heart right along with having breast cancer because i lost that enjoyment too! i for one will not have more than 2 a week and not on a weekly bases either my life is worth more than wine but when i do have a glass IT"S A GOOD ONE > and i savory it !

    November 4, 2011 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Noreen

    I have a different theory. I think women get breast cancer because they shave their under arms and then wear toxic deodorant. The lymph gland are under your arms and the toxins travel through the lymph nodes to the breasts...scientific fact. I am sure tight bras don't help. I do believe that excessive alcohol could contribute, but I agree with James that if you eat a healthy diet and exercise it will diminish the negative effects of that glass of wine.

    November 5, 2011 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Richard Smith

    Why can't life be enjoyed and lived to the fullest without alcohol? With all the social and evidently physical problems that alcohol causes it's a mystery to me why so many people act as if not drinking is the craziest thing in the world. Why do so many people need alcohol to have a "good time" or "enjoy" themselves, I just don't get it.

    November 5, 2011 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Suarez

    Joel! Helt sjukt att läsa allt du är med om, srreualistiskt nästan. Bra bloggat för övrigt. Du verkar ha det riktigt bra, hoppas det fortsätter så och så får du berätta mer när du är hemma. Vi ses i Stockholm eller Luleå!

    February 1, 2012 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.