Young Women can Reduce Breast Disease Risks

Adolescents with family history of breast disease should avoid drinking alcohol

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's scary for girls who have a family history of breast disease. They want to know what they can do to avoid the diseases they've seen in their mothers, aunts and/or grandmothers. Now, they have some answers.

Avoiding alcohol is one of the best things young women with a family history of benign breast disease or breast cancer can do to avoid these diseases. Those are the findings of new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

"If you have a family history of breast disease, don't drink alcohol."

The link between alcohol and breast cancer has been established. It's also well known that a family history of breast disease increases a girl's risk of developing the same illness. The new study shows this already elevated risk increases when teenage girls drink alcohol.

Graham A. Colditz, M.D., Ph.D, the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery and senior author, told dailyRx in an email that the study showed young women "who have a family history of breast cancer – or if their mother has a history of breast cancer – then drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer precursor lesions."

Dr. Colditz said, "Benign breast lesions are a precursor or intermediate step from normal breast cells to malignant growth of cells."

The study began in 1996 and initially involved more than 9,000 girls between the ages of 9 and 15 who are daughters of women in the Nurses' Health Study II. Participants answered questionnaires over the next five years and were surveyed in 2003, 2005 and 2007 about family history, alcohol intake, height, waist measurement, age of first menstrual cycle, among other factors that are known to influence breast cancer risk.

In the 2005 and 2007 surveys, given when the women were 18-27, a total 67 of the participants had been diagnosed with biopsy-confirmed benign breast disease, and 6,741 reported no such diagnosis

Dr. Colditz explained what the study uncovered. "Women with a family history of breast cancer who drank an average of one drink per day in late adolescence and early adult years have a doubling in their risk of biopsy-confirmed benign breast disease, compared to those who never drink alcohol," Dr.  Colditz said.

He continued, "Given much concern among women as to what they can do to lower breast cancer risk or prevent breast cancer in their children (grandchildren, nieces, etc) these data document that limiting alcohol intake will help avoid the increase in risk that goes with drinking."

Bottom line, Dr. Colditz said, "Avoiding alcohol can avoid the excess risk that goes with alcohol intake."

The study also discovered:

  • A family history of benign breast disease or cancer doubled a girl's risk of developing these illnesses.
  • The more alcohol they consumed, the more likely the girls were to develop breast disease as young women.
  • Alcohol consumption did not elevate breast disease risks in women with no family history.
  • For girls with no family history of breast disease, BMI (body mass index) in childhood, waist circumference in adolescence and height in adulthood affected their risks.
  • Risks vary among women with and without a family history of breast disease.

This study was published online November 14, 2011 in the journal Cancer.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 13, 2011
Last Updated:
November 14, 2011