Alcohol and Breast Cancer Survival

April 14, 2013

Alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk for breast cancer. But a new study suggests that moderate drinking has little effect on survival after diagnosis, and may reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers, writing online in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, studied 22,890 women with breast cancer, recording information on alcohol intake before diagnosis and, for a subset of 4,881 of them, after diagnosis as well.

After controlling for age, education, stage of cancer, body mass index, smoking and other factors, they found that breast cancer survival was similar in women who drank alcohol after diagnosis and those who did not. But women who drank moderately before diagnosis — three to six drinks a week — were significantly less likely to die of breast cancer and of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, the authors write, is increasingly being recognized as a mortality cause among breast cancer survivors.

The study’s lead author, Polly A. Newcomb, said that the results “suggest that moderate alcohol consumption before or after breast cancer diagnosis is not associated with an increased risk of death from breast cancer.” Dr. Newcomb is a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

The authors note that the study is observational, and it may be that women who drink moderately engage in other healthy practices that the researchers were unable to control for.

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