Alcohol and HRT may increase breast cancer risk

November 19, 2002 in Cancer Prevention, Menopause, Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Alcohol and HRT may increase breast cancer risk

Previous research has suggested that postmenopausal women who either drink alcohol or use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) have a higher than average risk of breast cancer, and new evidence suggests that the combination of both could up the risk more than either alone.

Based on results from a group of more than 44,000 women, researchers from Boston discovered that those who drank at least 1-1/2 drinks each day and used HRT for at least 5 years were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as women who neither drank alcohol nor took HRT. The authors also demonstrated that women who either drank at least 1-1/2 alcoholic drinks each day or took HRT for at least 5 years appeared to have a 30% increased risk in breast cancer, relative to their non-drinking peers who opted out of HRT.

When women are faced with the decision of whether or not to take HRT, the investigators said that they hope they also consider how drinking alcohol every day may affect their breast cancer risk.

Despite these findings, a wealth of previous research indicates that regular drinking can improve a woman's cardiovascular health. The researchers pointed out that women who drank an average of less than one drink each day showed no increased risk of breast cancer. There is no established minimum amount of alcohol that women need to receive its heart healthy benefits, so cutting consumption to less than a glass each day could help the heart without sacrificing the breast.

Both alcohol consumption and HRT can increase breast cancer risk by increasing levels of estrogen in the body. The current findings do not suggest that women need to abandon alcohol all together, but perhaps limit it to less than a glass and a half per day.

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