CANCER
April 30, 2013

Breast Cancer Survivors Who Drink

Moderate alcohol consumption may offer some benefit to women who have had breast cancer.

There is a bit of good news for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer — the occasional cocktail may not be as bad as you might think. A new study has found that alcohol consumption before and after diagnosis does not affect survival; in fact, moderate alcohol consumption decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), a major cause of mortality among women with breast cancer.

Numerous studies have linked alcohol consumption to an increased risk of breast cancer.

“Our findings should be reassuring to women who have breast cancer because their past experience consuming alcohol will not impact their survival after diagnosis, ” Polly Newcomb, lead author on the study, said in a statement. “This study also provides additional support for the beneficial effect of moderate alcohol consumption with respect to cardiovascular disease.”

Women who consumed a moderate level of alcohol (three to six drinks per week) in the years before their cancer diagnosis were 15 percent less likely to die from CVD compared to those who did not drink.

Researchers reviewed data from almost 23,000 women who participated in the Collaborative Breast Cancer Study, a population-based study that looked at breast cancer risk factors. In a smaller follow-up study, about 5,000 participants were sent a questionnaire about their alcohol consumption after diagnosis.

Among those with a history of breast cancer, the amount and type of alcohol a woman consumed prior to diagnosis was not associated with a greater likelihood of dying from breast cancer, the investigators found. And those who consumed a moderate level of alcohol (three to six drinks per week) in the years before their cancer diagnosis were 15 percent less likely to die from CVD compared to those who did not drink.

Moderate wine consumption in particular was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. Consuming more than six drinks per week and/or drinking beer or spirits conferred no such benefit.

The results were similar when investigators looked at reported alcohol consumption after diagnosis: the amount and type of alcohol consumed did not affect breast cancer survival, but did impact CVD mortality. Those who drank alcohol in moderation had a 39- to 50-percent lower mortality rate from CVD compared to non-drinkers. Alcohol consumption is believed to influence breast cancer risk through increases in estrogen production in both pre- and post-menopausal women.

So why does alcohol affect breast cancer risk and survival rates differently? “It could be that the kind of breast cancer that is more likely to be diagnosed among women who drink may be more responsive to hormone-reduction therapies,” said Newcomb, who is head of the cancer prevention program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center at the University of Washington.

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
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