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Girls and young women who drink alcohol increase their risk of developing benign breast disease, a risk factor for breast cancer development, according to a recent study.1

The study found that the risk of benign breast disease increased with the amount of alcohol consumed among girls ages 9 to 15 years. These findings indicate that alcohol should be limited in adolescence and the early adult years to prevent breast cancer later in life, according to Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, associate director of prevention and control at the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. Approximately 80% of breast lumps are benign, but they can be a step on a pathway that leads normal breast tissue to develop into invasive breast cancer, lie notes.

A total of 6899 participants reported their alcohol consumption and any diagnoses of benign breast disease. Participants who drank 6 or 7 days per week were 5.5 times more likely to have benign breast disease than those who did not drink or who had fever than 1 drink per week; those who drank 3 to 5 days per week had 3 times the risk. As a daily average, participants diagnosed with benign breast disease consumed 2 times more than those who did not have it.

The study was unique in that researchers asked subjects about their alcohol intake while they were adolescents as opposed to asking theni years later to recall how often they drank. Other studies of adult women have shown that drinking alcohol later in life increases breast cancer risk. However, Dr. Colditz adds that many women begin drinking as adolescents, when breast tissue is going through rapid proliferation. That is why his team wanted to determine whether alcohol had a similar effect in younger women.

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  • 1
    Berkey CS, Willett WC, Frazier AL, et al. Prospective study oh adolescent alcohol consumption and risk of benign breast disease in young women. Pediatrics. 2010; 125: e1081-e1087.