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Alcohol and breast cancer study: amount, not type, poses risk

An important new study concludes that it’s the quantity of alcohol consumed – rather than the type - that increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. This contradicts most findings to date.

‘Population studies have consistently linked drinking alcohol to an increased risk of female breast cancer,’ Dr Arthur Klatsky, of Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, told an audience at the European Cancer Conference in Barcelona on September 27.

‘But there has been little data, most of it conflicting, about an independent role played by the choice of beverage type.’

In one of the most comprehensive individual studies to date, Klatsky and his colleagues analysed the drinking habits of 70,033 women from all ethnic groups. The women had supplied information during medical check-ups between 1978 and 1985.

By 2004, 2,829 of the participants had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The study examined the choice of drink – ie women who favoured one type of alcohol versus women who indicated no preference – as well as potential correlation between the frequency of drinking one type of alcohol over another. Researchers also analysed total intake, comparing those who had more than one drink a day with those who drank less.

The results indicate that women who consumed one to two drinks daily increased their risk of developing breast cancer by 10%, compared with those who had less than one drink a day. The risk rose to 30% for women who had more than three drinks a day, regardless of the type of drink.

Emphasising that ‘a 30% increased risk is not trivial’, Dr Klatsky compared the increased risk with that of women who take oestrogenic hormones.

The results also showed that consuming at least three alcoholic drinks a day is as risky as smoking a packet of cigarettes a day.

Written by Maggie Rosen

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