TUESDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Women who have as few as three alcoholic drinks a week may have a moderately increased risk of developing breast cancer, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed data from nearly 106,000 women taking part in the U.S. Nurses' Health Study to examine any links between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. The women were followed from 1980 through 2008 and asked about their alcohol consumption about every four years.
"We did see a modest risk [of breast cancer] associated with lower levels of alcohol consumption," said lead study author Dr. Wendy Chen, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
But Chen stressed that women who occasionally over-imbibe on vacation or at a holiday party shouldn't be alarmed; the research measured cumulative alcohol consumption over many years.
During the study period, about 7,700 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Women who reported drinking 5 to 9.9 grams of alcohol daily (less than half an ounce a day or the equivalent of three to six glasses of wine weekly) were 15 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than women who never or rarely drank alcohol.
Women who drank more -- about two glasses of wine, or 30 grams of alcohol, daily -- had a 51 percent increased risk of breast cancer. (Although the researchers converted grams of alcohol into glasses of wine, the risk was similar whether women drank wine, liquor or beer.)
The study is in the Nov. 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Prior research has also found an association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. One reason for the connection may be that alcohol raises levels of circulating estrogen, and high levels of estrogen are linked to breast cancer, Chen said.
What made this study unusual is that informati
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