Alcohol Increases Risk of Breast Disease in Girls and Young Women

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Teenage girls who consume alcohol may be at increased risk for breast disease that can ultimately lead to breast cancer. In a study, alcohol consumption among girls and young women was found to boost the risk of non cancerous (benign) breast disease.

Researchers say limiting alcohol in early life can cut breast cancer risk. The chance of developing benign breast disease was found to be proportionate to the amount of alcohol consumed by young women.

"Our study clearly showed that the risk of benign breast disease increased with the amount of alcohol consumed in this age group," says Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, associate director of prevention and control at the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. "The study is an indication that alcohol should be limited in adolescence and early adult years and further focuses our attention on these years as key to preventing breast cancer later in life."

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Girls, age 9 to 15 were studied to find the link between benign breast disease and alcohol, beginning in 1996 to 2007. Health surveys were conducted as part of the Growing Up Today Study. More than 9,000 girls from all fifty states were followed who are also daughters of participants in the Nurses' Health Study II, an ongoing and long standing investigation of women’s health.

Young girls who drank alcohol three times a week were found to have three times the risk of developing breast disease that can lead to breast cancer. Increased drinking – 6 to 7 days a week -boosted the risk five and half times. Binge drinking was also linked to breast disease in the study.

"We know from many other studies of adult women that alcohol intake later in life increases breast cancer risk," says Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, associate director of prevention and control at the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “But many women begin drinking alcohol as adolescents right at the time in which breast tissue is going through stages of rapid proliferation. So we wanted to see if the effect of alcohol on breast cancer risk was operative in this younger group."

The authors say that young girls can reduce their risk of breast cancer later in life by limiting alcohol consumption. Past studies who that adult women who consume alcohol increase their risk of breast cancer. Other interventions to reduce the chances of breast cancer include daily exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. The findings add to a growing body of evidence that even early lifestyle choices are important factors for reducing the risk of disease.

Washington University in St. Louis

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