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Alcohol consumption and breast cancer

February 24, 2009 4:05:08 PM PST
A drink a day may not be okay, as there are now new concerns about women and alcohol. A new study finds that even moderate alcohol consumption could raise a woman's risk for cancer. For many people, it's relaxing at the end of the work day to have a drink. It may even reduce heart disease risk. But for women, in particular, having just one drink a day can increase their risk of breast cancer, according to the new report.

"This is a very large study, which adds to the evidence that even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer, especially breast cancer," said Dr. David Savitz, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

More than a million women were asked by questionnaire about their drinking habits over a lifetime. The average daily alcohol consumption was a drink a day, and very few had three or more drinks a day. The risk of several common cancers went up for one drink a day, but the highest risk was for breast cancer, an increased risk of 12 percent.

That is a frightening statistic, because that could mean about 25,000 more woman across the country could develop breast cancer each year. But the risk for any one woman? Think of it this way, compared to the risk of lung cancer from smoking.

"Lung cancer risk is increased 20-fold by smoking," Dr. Savitz said. "Breast cancer risk from one drink a day may be increased by 1.1 percent."

It is a very small increase in cancer risk. But what about studies showing one drink a day may reduce a woman's risk of a heart attack?

Though heart disease is the major cause of death in women overall, the major killer of middle-aged women is cancer.

So one drink a day may reduce heart risk, but increase breast cancer risk.

"You hear all the time that to drink red wine is healthy, so there's a lot of contradictory information, and that's confusing," one woman said.

It is confusing, and for alcohol at present, it is a health dilemma.

There are other risk factors for breast cancer, including family history of the disease and genetics. Dr. Savitz says that until the dilemma of alcohol and health is resolved, exercising unequivocally is something a woman can do that reduces both her risk of breast cancer and heart disease.

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King


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