Recent review links age and alcohol consumption to increased risk of breast cancer

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breast-cancer-risk(NaturalHealth365)  Breast cancer, which claims the lives of about 43,600 women every year in the United States, is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer death among women.  It is also the second most common type of all cancers in women, with The American Cancer Society noting that one in eight American women is expected to develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their lives.

While genetics play a role in breast cancer development, factors such as lifestyle choices, health status, oxidative stress, and aging contribute as well.  In an important review published in Women’s Health, the authors analyzed a wide variety of scientific studies to reveal the surprising ways in which breast cancer risk is influenced by age and alcohol consumption.

You don’t want to miss this important information.

Even “social drinking” can raise breast cancer risk

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorizes ethanol (alcohol) as a Class 1 carcinogen or substance proven to cause cancer.  So, it should come as no surprise that recent alcohol consumption – even when light or moderate – is associated in studies with an increased risk of breast cancer.  The increase in risk from moderate amounts of alcohol appears to be unique to breast cancer – in other words; other body organs don’t appear to be affected in the same way by light drinking.

So, before you say “Cheers!” you should be aware that breast tissue appears to be more susceptible than other organs to the carcinogenic effects of alcohol.  In fact, the IARC reports a 7 to 10 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer for each alcoholic drink consumed a day by adult women.  (By the way, a “drink” is generally referred to as a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a shot – or 1.5 ounces – of hard liquor).

Not only does ethanol target epithelial breast cancer cells, but it may increase amounts of matrix metalloproteinases, harmful compounds that promote the ability of tumors to spread.  In addition, ethanol also adversely affects the metabolism of folate, a B vitamin needed for DNA synthesis.

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Up to 10 percent of U.S. breast cancer cases can be attributed to alcohol consumption

While some researchers maintain that women should avoid even light and moderate drinking in the interests of warding off breast cancer, there is one fact on which the experts universally agree: habitual, excessive alcohol consumption significantly raises risk.

When it comes to preventing increases in breast cancer risk, researchers report that “saving drinks up” for a weekend binge is not a good strategy.  Consuming multiple drinks in one sitting results in higher alcohol levels in the blood, which can trigger different metabolic pathways.  Women who report having seven drinks on the weekend – after a “dry” week – may have an even higher risk than their more moderate counterparts who sip one drink every day.

In one influential Nurses’ Health Study, “binge drinkers” had a substantial 21 percent rise in breast cancer risk compared to non-drinkers.  Other studies showed that women who consumed 10 to 15 drinks over the weekend experienced a 49 percent increase in breast cancer risk.  In women who imbibed 16 to 21 drinks over the weekend, risk skyrocketed to the point that they were over one-and-a-half times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who abstained.

Age matters:  Early exposure to alcohol can confer “excessive” risk

It’s not only the amount of alcohol that influences breast cancer risk but the age at which women begin drinking.  It turns out that breast tissue is particularly vulnerable to carcinogens between the onset of menstruation and first pregnancy – and alcohol exposure during that time can lead to changes in the breast that may help trigger breast cancer development.  Although young adults may feel “bulletproof,” the fact is: environmental exposures during adolescence and early adulthood are more significant in breast cancer development than those that occur later in life.

In one eye-opening finding, the team noted that women who started drinking before age 30 experienced a 34 percent increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer for every 1.5 drinks they imbibed a day.  And the harmful effect can become apparent in later life. “Early-life alcohol consumption appears to contribute to both pre-and post-menopausal breast cancer,” the scientists reported.

SURPRISING fact:  The average age of a breast cancer diagnosis is 62

While early drinking can contribute to risk, the incidence of breast cancer generally increases as women age.  The National Cancer Institute reports that breast cancer is prevalent in women over 50, with doctors most often diagnosing it in women between 55 and 64 years old.  (Incidentally, the average age of diagnosis is 62 years old).  The aging process involves increased oxidative stress and lower levels of precious disease-fighting antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase, which help neutralize carcinogens and toxins.

To reduce your risk of breast cancer, experts advise maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise, particularly after menopause.  In addition, as synthetic hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills may increase risk, it’s best to seek out non-hormonal alternatives.  Stopping smoking, avoiding processed meats, and bypassing refined sugars is also a wise choice, as is getting proper nutrition through an antioxidant-rich diet with plenty of organic fruits and vegetables.

While the decision to drink is an individual one, the safest amount of alcohol for breast cancer prevention appears to be: none.  If you are concerned about breast cancer and unsure about how often – if ever – you should say “Bottoms up!” your knowledgeable integrative doctor can provide guidance.

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