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Study: Alcohol Consumption Raises Cancer Risk In Women

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 9:15 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Alcohol Consumption, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Cancer, Women's Health, Breast Cancer


IMAGE SOURCE: iStockPhoto / toasting / author: webphotographeer

Alcohol consumption -- even low amounts -- increases the risk of certain cancers in women.

According to a newly released study published in the March 4 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 13 percent of breast, liver, rectum and upper respiratory/gastrointestinal cancers may be linked to alcohol use.

Understandably, some women are likely to be confused, given all the hype about red wine being heart healthy and akin to the fountain of youth.

Half of U.S. women drink on occasion, and even the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests a daily drink can have “beneficial” effects. (Guidelines will be updated for 2010)

Confused yet?

While it is true that studies have found resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, can offer a host of health benefits. And several studies have indicated moderate drinking may lower the risk of heart disease and other ailments. The guidelines never intended to recommend anyone drink for his or her health.

For the study, Dr. Naomi Allen of Oxford College and her colleagues, analyzed data from the Million Women Study, which has been collecting information from more than 1 million women, aged 50 and over, since 1996.

They analyzed how much alcohol women reported consuming when first signing up as a study volunteer. And again three years later to determine if there was an association with the 68,775 cancers they developed over a span of seven years.

The risk of cancer of the breast, rectum and liver increased even among those women who consumed as little as one drink per day. The risk of mouth and throat cancer also increased in women that were also smokers.

Based on the findings, researchers estimate that 5 percent of all cancers diagnosed in American women each year are the result of low to moderate alcohol consumption. Most are breast cancers, with drinking accounting for 11 percent of cases – about 20,000 extra cases yearly.

Researchers calculated 15 extra cancers in any group of 1,000 American women up to age 75 who consumed an average of one drink per day; two drinks per day would result in 30 extra cancers and so on.

The risk appeared to be the same whether the drink of choice was wine, spirits, beer or other types of alcohol. Dr. Allen notes that even less than one drink a day may increase the risk.

She adds, “There doesn’t appear to be a threshold at which alcohol consumption is safe.”

Researchers are not entirely clear how alcohol increases the risk of cancer, but there are many possibilities, including increasing inflammation, or in the case of breast cancer, it elevated estrogen levels.

In a related commentary, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Michael S. Lauer and Dr. Paul Sorlie, from the National Institutes of Health, wrote: "Despite its attractions, alcohol has been the proximate cause of a great deal of human misery, now with additional documentation by the elegant report of Allen et. al."

"Perhaps the complex story of alcohol," they add, "can be best summed up by what the great professor Albus Dumbledore said about truth in one of his conversations with his student Harry Potter: 'It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution'." #

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