We already know that research has linked alcohol with breast cancer risk. Now, a new study shows that adolescent girls with a family history of breast disease have a higher risk of developing benign breast disease as young women than other girls, and that this already-elevated risk rises with increasing alcohol consumption.
“The most common question we hear from women with a family history of breast disease is how can we prevent breast cancer in our daughters,” says epidemiologist Graham A. Colditz and senior author on the study. “This points to a strategy to lower risk — or avoid increasing risk — by limiting alcohol intake.”
‘The most common question we hear from women with a family history of breast disease is how can we prevent breast cancer in our daughters’
This study is one of the first to look at alcohol consumption in adolescents and the risk of breast disease. Most studies linking alcohol to the risk of developing breast cancer focus on women in their 40s, 50s and 60s and on their risk of invasive breast cancer, not the risk of early, benign lesions that may lead to invasive breast cancer.
The health risks associated with teen drinking are well known, and there are specific risks for adolescent girls. But this study found that young women with no family history of breast disease saw no elevated risk of benign breast lesions with alcohol consumption. Instead, their risk appeared to be related to increased body mass index in childhood, waist circumference in adolescence and height in adulthood.
“Increasing height is related to breast cancer risk,” Colditz says. “And some data point to faster growth spurts leading to a higher risk of subsequent cancer. Obviously, that’s not something we can control. But if we can understand what is going on in terms of hormones and processes in the body and the role of physical activity and diet, we may be able to modify some of that accumulation of breast cancer risk through the early years.”
The study, produced by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is published online in the journal Cancer.