Scientists Find Yet Another Link Between Alcohol and Breast Cancer

Teen drinking leads to benign breast disease, which drastically raises the risk of developing malignant tumors.

The Doctor Will See You Now
Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock

Alcohol use and abuse is common among teenage girls. This has short- and long-term health effects as well as numerous consequences of alcohol-enhanced risk taking behavior. Alcohol is a known risk factor for breast cancer and studies have shown that a 10 gram per day increase in alcohol intake in adult women is associated with a 7-10 percent increased risk of breast cancer. (One can of beer is estimated to contain 12.8 grams of alcohol, while one four-ounce glass of wine has 11.0 grams.)

A recent study looked at the impact of alcohol intake in adolescent girls on the development of proliferative benign breast disease (BDD), which is known to cause a fourfold increase in the risk of developing breast cancer. The researchers further asked whether folate intake during the teenage years could positively influence the development of proliferative BDD in female adolescent drinkers.

The data revealed that there was a dose-dependent relationship between alcohol consumption during adolescence and the development of proliferative benign breast disease.

One theory explaining the impact of alcohol on cancer risk suggests that alcohol decreases the body’s levels of folate, a vitamin which is involved in gene expression and DNA repair. Deficiencies in folate could cause a decrease in the body’s ability to repair DNA. Damaged DNA can potentially become cancerous.

The investigators reasoned that if alcohol decreases the body’s folate level, then perhaps increasing dietary folate could have a protective effect against the increased breast cancer risk posed by alcohol. This would provide a simple nutritional intervention for adolescent girls who drank alcohol to help decrease their breast cancer risk.

The researchers focused on the 18-22 year old age group because they believed that the breast cells were most vulnerable to carcinogens during the time between the first period and the first pregnancy. This is a time when breast tissue undergoes rapid proliferation and differentiation. They hypothesized that “adequate folate intake during adolescence would reduce the risk of proliferative BBD associated with alcohol consumptions between ages 18-22 years.”

The researchers used data from 29,117 women who were part of the Nurses’ Health Study II. The participants completed adolescent alcohol consumption and dietary questionnaires. The data revealed that there was a dose-dependent relationship between alcohol consumption during adolescence and the development of proliferative benign breast disease.

The risk increased as the alcohol consumption increased; for each 10 gram per day of alcohol intake during adolescence there was a 21 percent risk of proliferative BDD. But the BDD risk remained the same for those adolescents who had low, moderate, or high folate intake during adolescence.

Thus, folate was not found to modulate or protect against the risk of development of proliferative BDD. This is a disappointing result as there is currently no identified dietary strategy which can decrease the risk of proliferative BDD or later breast cancer associated with adolescent alcohol use. The best available protection is decreasing adolescent alcohol consumption.

The study appears in the journal, Pediatrics.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

Presented by

Esther Entin, M.D., is a pediatrician and clinical associate professor of Family Medicine at Brown University's Warren Alpert School of Medicine. She writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In