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Alcohol, Hormones May
Increase Breast Cancer Risk

, Reuter's Health

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Previous research has suggested that postmenopausal women who either drink alcohol or use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have a higher than average risk of breast cancer, and new evidence suggests that the combination of both could up the risk more than either alone.

Based on results from a group of more than 44,000 women, the investigators discovered that those who drank at least 1-1/2 drinks each day and used HRT for at least 5 years were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as women who neither drank alcohol nor took HRT.

The authors also demonstrated that women who either drank at least 1-1/2 alcoholic drinks each day or took HRT for at least 5 years appeared to have a 30% increased risk in breast cancer, relative to their teetotaler counterparts who opted out of HRT.

Study author Dr. Wendy Y. Chen of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts told Reuters Health that she realizes that women who go through menopause have a lot of medical information to sift through, especially lately. "There are a lot of women who are now facing difficult decisions," she said.

However, when women are faced with the decision of whether or not to take HRT, she said that she hopes they also consider how drinking alcohol every day may affect their breast cancer risk.

The decision is not an easy one, Chen admitted; while her study suggests that alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer, a wealth of previous research indicates that regular drinking can improve a woman's cardiovascular health.

To make sense of this confusion, Chen pointed out that women who drank an average of less than one drink each day--for example a couple of drinks per week--showed no increased risk of breast cancer. There is no established minimum amount of alcohol that women need to receive its heart healthy benefits, Chen noted, so cutting consumption to less than a glass each day could help the heart without sacrificing the breast.

Chen and her colleagues base their findings on a group of 44,187 postmenopausal women who were followed for 14 years.

Every two years, the women checked in and indicated whether they were using HRT or had developed breast cancer. At four points during the study, the researchers queried the women about how much alcohol they drank. The researchers published their findings in the November 19th issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

A total of 1,722 women developed breast cancer, and the authors discovered that the risk of doing so increased if the women either drank 1-1/2 servings of alcohol--wine, beer or spirits--or took HRT, or did both.

In an interview with Reuters Health, Chen explained that the current study did not investigate how alcohol consumption or HRT could influence the risk of breast cancer, but said that previous research has suggested that both can up the risk by increasing levels of estrogen in the body.

However, Chen emphasized that the current findings do not suggest that women need to abandon alcohol all together. "I think it means you should limit it to less than a glass and a half per day," she noted.

SOURCE: Annals of Internal Medicine 2002;137:798-804.

Reference Source 89


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