Study linking alcohol to breast cancer cites wine-drinking dangers

The idea that drinking wine is beneficial to health took a serious setback with the recent release of a Kaiser Permanente report that found consumption of any kind of alcohol raises women’s risk of breast cancer. A recap of reports from various news organizations:

Previous studies found an increased risk of breast cancer associated with alcohol use, The Washington Post reported. What hadn’t been clear was how much the risk increased and whether one type of alcohol was riskier than another.

What the Kaiser Permanente study found was that the degree of risk varies in relation to the amount of alcohol consumed – regardless of the type – whether it’s wine, beer or liquor.

Compared with drinkers who had less than one drink a day, women who consumed one or two drinks a day increased their risk of developing breast cancer by 10 percent. The risk rose to 30 percent for women who had more than three drinks a day, about the same level of risk for women who smoke a pack of cigarettes per day, according to the study.

“In terms of abstinence from alcohol, I don’t think we can generalize to each individual woman,” lead author Yan Li told Bloomberg.com. “But persistent heavy drinking has been linked to breast cancer.”

Although one glass of red wine a day has been linked to lower blood pressure, any such benefit could be outweighed by adverse effects if family history includes cancer: Women who are genetically more likely to have breast cancer, or who have family members who have had the malady, should consider foregoing wine, Li told Bloomberg.

“Any alcohol consumption will raise your breast cancer risk,” Tim Key, of the Cancer Research UK Epidemiology Unit at Oxford, told the Associated Press. “Women don’t have to abstain from alcohol entirely, but they need to be aware of the risks they’re taking when they have a few too many drinks.”

Wine Spectator, in reporting on the Kaiser Permanente study, linked to a 2005 report that eating high amounts of folic acid (leafy greens, citrus fruits, beans and peas) may eliminate breast cancer risks from moderate alcohol consumption.

It quoted the Kaiser Permanente study’s lead scientist Arthur Klatsky acknowledging that responsible consumption of red wine can have some benefits: “We think that the heart-protection benefit from red wine is real, but is probably derived mostly from alcohol-induced higher HDL [good] cholesterol, reduced blood clotting and reduced diabetes (but) none of these mechanisms are known to have anything to do with breast cancer.”

Bottom line, according to the Wine Spectator report: Get medical advice on your particular health factors. “The only general statement that could be made as a result of our findings,” Klatsky said, “is that it provides more evidence for why heavy drinkers should quit or cut down.”


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