July 26, 2014
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Breast Cancer

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Study: Alcohol-hormone mix associated with higher breast cancer risk

Drinking alcohol and using hormone therapy may be a dangerous combination, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

A team of Swedish researchers followed nearly 52,000 postmenopausal women in order to determine the role of alcohol in the development of different types of breast cancer as well as to see whether hormone therapy added to the effect.

Participants in the study filled out food frequency questionnaires in 1987 and 1997 and were followed to see who developed breast cancer. The surveys included questions on the type and amount of alcohol the women had consumed over the previous six months, as well as how often they drank.

The women were divided into three categories of drinkers - from non-drinkers to those who consumed 10 grams of ethanol per day, or the equivalent of about one standard drink. But the researchers say that because daily drinking is uncommon among older Swedish women, even in the category that corresponds to the heaviest drinking, the women drank about one alcoholic beverage per day.

By the end of June 2004, more than 1,200 women had developed breast cancer. Estrogen-receptor status, which is used to classify the type of breast cancer, was known for 1,188 of these women. In estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancers - the most common type of breast cancer - tumours grow when they are exposed to the hormone estrogen.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that drinking alcohol was associated with an increased risk of estrogen-receptor-positive tumours. But booze didn't appear to affect the risk of estrogen-receptor-negative tumours, which are not affected by estrogen.

Earlier studies have linked alcohol consumption to postmenopausal breast cancer, but few have looked at the differences between tumour types.

As well, the researchers found that, compared to non-drinkers who never used hormones, women who both drank and used hormone therapy had a 3.5-fold risk of developing certain types of estrogen receptor-positive tumours. But the researchers note that their findings are limited due to a lack of specific information about the type of hormone replacement as well as the duration and recency of use.

"In the future, large studies with complete and detailed information on lifelong alcohol consumption and on lifetime specific ... hormone use need to further investigate the issue," conclude the researchers.


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