A new study from Washington’s University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, has heightened the breast cancer risk for young women heading back to school. An increased consumption of alcohol before motherhood during adolescence is linked to a greater risk of future breast cancer.
“More and more heavy drinking is occurring on college campuses and during adolescence, and not enough people are considering future risk. But, according to our research, the lesson is clear: If a female averages a drink per day between her first period and her first full-term pregnancy, she increases her risk of breast cancer by 13 percent,” said co-author Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, associate director for cancer prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.
The study also examined the cumulative effects of alcohol on benign and found that for every bottle of beer, glass of wine or shot of liquor consumed daily, a young woman increases her risk of proliferative benign breast disease by 15 percent. Although such lesions are noncancerous, their presence increases breast cancer risk by as much as 500 percent, Liu said.
“Parents should educate their daughters about the link between drinking and risk of breast cancer and breast disease,” she said. “That’s very important because this time period is very critical.”
The findings are based on a review of the health histories of 91,005 mothers enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II from 1989 to 2009. Colditz was key to the development and administration of that and similar studies that track disease risk in female nurses.
Breast tissue cells are particularly susceptible to cancer-causing substances as they undergo rapid proliferation during adolescence and later. Adding to the risk is the lengthening time frame between the average age of a girl’s first menstrual cycle and the average age of a woman’s first full-term pregnancy. Colditz doesn’t foresee any shortening of that, which is why young women should drink less, he said — to lower average daily consumption and, therefore, risk.
“Reducing drinking to less than one drink per day, especially during this time period, is a key strategy to reducing lifetime risk of breast cancer,” he said.
Liu Y, Colditz GA, Rosner B, Berkey CS, Collins LC, Schnitt SJ, Connolly JL, Chen WY, Willett WC, Tamimi RM. Alcohol intake between menarche and first pregnancy: A prospective study of breast cancer risk. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Aug. 28, 2013 DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djt213