Teenage and adolescent girls who
regularly consume alcohol may be at greater risk for developing benign breast
disease in their 20s than their teetotal counterparts, Harvard researchers
report in the May issue of Paediatrics.
Benign breast disease or
noncancerous lumps, bumps or cysts in the breast are known risk factors for
“These findings raise concern
because alcohol intakes by college students has increased greatly in recent
years, whereas drinking by adult women is one of few known dietary risk factors
for breast cancer,” concluded the researchers, who were led by Catherine
S. Berkey, a lecturer in medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a research
associate at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston.
“If future work confirms our
findings, then clinical efforts to delay the onset of alcohol consumption may
prevent some cases of benign breast disease and breast cancer,” the report
Girls were aged 9 to 15 when the
Growing Up Today Study began. They answered questionnaires from 1996 to 2001,
and then again in 2003, 2005, and 2007. The questions about alcohol consumption
in the previous year were a part of the 2003 survey.
During the 2005 and 2007 surveys,
the participants were asked about benign breast disease; 147 women said they
had been diagnosed with it and 67 of these women said this diagnosis was
confirmed with a biopsy.
Those participants who drank
alcohol six to seven days per week were more than five times as likely to
develop benign breast disease as their counterparts who abstained. The teens
and adolescent women who drank three to five days per week had three times the
risk of developing benign breast disease as their counterparts who did not
drink alcohol, the study showed.
Exactly how alcohol use during the
teen years raises risk for benign breast disease is not fully understood, but
the researchers speculate that alcohol use may increase levels of the female
sex hormone oestrogen, which may foster the development of benign lumps, bumps,
and cysts in the breasts.
“The breasts of young girls
are very active and if you give them extra hormones or alcohol, then they can
respond by creating lumps and bumps and things in the category of benign breast
disease, and if you keep this going, it can increase the risk of breast
cancer,” said Marisa Weiss, the
president and founder of advocacy group Breastcancer.org and the author of several
books, including Taking Care of Your Girls: A Breast Health Guide for Girls,
Teens, and In-Betweens.
“You are laying the foundation
for your future breast health during adolescence,” says Dr. Weiss, who is
also the director of Breast Radiation Oncology and the director of Breast
Health Outreach at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, Penn.
“The habits that you develop
as an adolescent are likely to turn into lifelong habits, and we know that
drinking in adult women is a risk factor for breast cancer,” she added.