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Even Moderate Drinking Raises Breast Cancer Risk

A massive new study finds that women who drink just three to six glasses of alcohol a week face a greater risk of breast cancer.

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By Anna David

11/03/11

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According to a study of over 100,000 American nurses, women who have three or more alcoholic drinks in a week have slightly higher chances of developing breast cancer than those who abstain.  This is interesting in light of the numerous studies that tout the health benefits of moderate alcohol—and this data follows all these women for up to three decades, so it's worth paying attention. Still, other relevant factors—such as exercise schedule, eating habits and general overall health—should never be ignored. In other words, a woman who drinks three light beers a week while following a diet of lean proteins and vegetables and training for an Iron Man faces very different risks from one who drinks the same while plowing through a carton of Camels and feasting on Ho Hos. That said, the nurses who averaged three to six drinks per week had a 15% higher chance of developing breast cancer than the teetotalers—and the risk grew by 10% for every 10 grams of alcohol drunk per day, never mind whether it was beer, wine or hard liquor. But what about those other studies, like the one claiming red wine protects against heart disease? Well, these researchers hedged a little, saying only: “deciding whether to avoid alcohol is a personal choice that should be based on a woman’s other risks for breast cancer and heart disease.” As for those women who like to go on vacay and really tear it up, while keeping the liquor consumption in check the other 51 weeks of the year, the news isn't so bad—it's cumulative, consistent drinking of at least three drinks per week that carries the highest risk in this area. In a point we can only hope everyone already understood, leading breast cancer specialist Dr. David Winchester points out that this study doesn’t suggest that women can avoid breast cancer simply by not drinking.

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