Two Daily Alcoholic Drinks Increase African American Women's Breast Cancer Risk

Research is clear that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer overall — for both younger and older women — yet few studies have focused on African American women. Similar to other races/ethnicities, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among African American women. Yet compared to other racial/ethnic groups, black women have lower survival rates of breast cancers and are more likely to be diagnosed with an aggressive form of this cancer, such as triple negative.

Now a large new study confirms that this finding applies to African American women, showing that 2 or more drinks per day on average puts African American women at higher risk of breast cancers than light drinkers. The study was published this week in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.

The study included approximately 22,000 women who were part of the African American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk Consortium (AMBER), a collaborative project that combines four leading studies of African American women and breast cancer. AMBER includes breast cancer cases and healthy controls.

The women diagnosed with breast cancer were compared to healthy women without, matched in age and other characteristics. Among the healthy controls, about 35 percent of the women reported they consumed alcohol at the time they entered the study. 

Women who reported drinking 14 or more drinks per week were at 33 percent higher risk than the light drinkers, defined as women having three or fewer drinks per week. This link was seen after taking into account age, weight, and other recognized risk factors for breast cancer.

This finding was generally consistent among the different types of cancers when looking at hormonal forms. For estrogen-receptor negative (ER negative) breast cancer for example, a form more challenging to treat, women drinking 7 or more drinks per week had a 31 percent increased risk compared to the light drinkers.

Risk associated with alcohol intake did not change much whether women used oral contraceptives, smoked, or were pre- or post menopausal.

Yet the study also found that women who never drank had a slightly higher risk of breast cancer compared to light drinkers. This may be due to other serious health issues that stopped these women from drinking alcohol, and that may have increased risk of breast cancer, the authors hypothesize.

AICR research links alcohol consumption to increased risk of breast cancer along with several other types, including oral, liver and colorectal. AICR recommends that if individuals do drink alcohol, to enjoy moderate amounts: 1 drink per day for women; 2 drinks for men.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and by the Komen for the Cure Foundation, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation; and the University Cancer Research Fund of North Carolina.

Sources: Lindsay A. Williams, Andrew F. Olshan, Chi-Chen Hong, Elisa V. Bandera, Lynn Rosenberg, Ting-Yuan David Cheng, Kathryn L. Lunetta, Susan E. McCann, Charles Poole, Laurence N. Kolonel, Julie R. Palmer, Christine B. Ambrosone and Melissa A. Troester. Alcohol Intake and Breast Cancer Risk in African American Women from the AMBER Consortium. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev April 18 2017.

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      Published on April 21, 2017

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