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Researchers reporting in the Aug. 24 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that women who drank one alcoholic beverage a day were at higher risk for developing estrogen receptor- and progesterone receptor-positive breast cancers.
Alcohol consumption was also connected with an increased risk for noninvasive breast cancers, but not for invasive tumors.
Alcohol is probably not the only factor at play here, added Dr. Gretchen Kimmick, an associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center.
"It's not a surprising finding, [but] when they stratified by hormone replacement therapy use, the effect went away, so this probably has to do with quite a few other things, not just alcohol," she said.
Women reported how much they drank but only at one point in time: They did not provide information on their history of alcohol consumption, nor was the information updated as the study continued.
Women who imbibed seven or more drinks a week had a higher risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer, but only lobular carcinoma, not ductal carcinoma, which is the more common type. This was in comparison to teetotalers.
The risk of tumors that were both estrogen receptor-positive and progesterone receptor-positive increased by 8% per drink per day. The risk of estrogen receptor-positive but progesterone receptor-negative cancers increased by 12% per drink per day.
Both lobular cancers and hormone receptor-positive cancers have better survival rates than the others.
"Minimizing alcohol intake will decrease breast cancer risk, and there are a lot of things we know that increase risk similar to what alcohol does. No one factor in particular is going to cause breast cancer in itself. They're probably all related and we're trying to figure out what the multiple factors are that cause breast cancer for women," Kimmick said.
"We know that alcohol is a well-established risk factor associated with breast cancer. What was unique about this study is that they tried to differentiate the type of cancer," said Dr. Sandhya Pruthi, a breast health specialist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"This shows that alcohol is a risk [factor] for developing breast cancer, and I think that women should be counseled that [drinking alcohol] does increase risk of breast cancer," added Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La. "Women should be advised [of the risk] but she has to make a decision how important having alcohol in her life is."
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