Young female drinkers’ face 35 per cent higher breast cancer risk, new study finds

Friday 21 October, 2016
New research by Cancer Council Victoria has found that limiting alcohol intake before a woman’s first pregnancy may reduce their risk of breast cancer later in life.
 
The study adds to the growing body of evidence linking alcohol consumption with cancer and is a reminder for women to be particularly mindful of their intake during early adulthood, says Cancer Council.
 
The new research found that drinking between the age of 15 and the first pregnancy is associated with a 35 per cent increase in breast cancer risk when compared with those who do not drink.1
 
Overall, women who drink before pregnancy have a 1 in 7 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer, while women who do not drink before pregnancy have a 1 in 9 chance of the disease.
 
The researchers came to this conclusion by looking at the alcohol intake of 13,630 women who had their first pregnancy at age 20 or later.
 
“These findings suggest that limiting alcohol consumption before first pregnancy may decrease an individual’s risk of breast cancer later in life,” said Dr Harindra Jayasekara, the study’s lead researcher.
 
“Other studies have shown pregnancy can reduce an individual’s risk of breast cancer because it makes the breast tissue less susceptible to carcinogens in alcoholic beverages.”
 
Study supervisor Professor Dallas English said there are many reasons why alcohol consumption before pregnancy may lead to an increase in breast cancer risk.
 
“One possible explanation is that between menarche and first pregnancy, the developing breast tissue is more vulnerable to carcinogens in alcohol,” he said.
 
Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said that these findings are a reminder to everyone, not just young women, to limit their alcohol consumption to cut their cancer risk.
 
“Cutting back on alcohol consumption throughout life will reduce your risk of developing other cancers, in addition to female breast,” Mr Harper said.
 
“Alcohol consumption is linked with 3200 cases of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, bowel and female breast in Australia each year.
 
“This study is a reminder that everyone who chooses to drink alcohol should limit their alcohol consumption during early adulthood and throughout life.
 
“Drinking less alcohol will reduce your risk of cancer.”
 
For more information and tips for drinking less visit cancervic.org.au/avoid-alcohol
 
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1  Jayasekara H, MacInnis RJ, Hodge AM, Room R, Milne RL, Hopper JL, Giles GG, English DR. Is breast cancer risk associated with alcohol intake before first full-term pregnancy? Cancer Causes Control 2016;27(9):1167-74.
 
 
Friday 21 October is Pink Ribbon Day.
Cancer Council’s Pink Ribbon Day helps raise funds in support of the many thousands of Australian women affected by breast and gynaecological cancers. Cancer Council aims to minimise the threat of women's cancers through successful prevention, best treatment, support and world-class cancer research.
Updated: 21 Oct, 2016