Adolescent & Young Adult Drinking, Benign Breast Disease, and Cancer Risk

In results widely reported this week, a new study has found strong links between the drinking behavior of young women and adolescent girls and their later risk of developing benign breast disease, a marker of future risk for breast cancer (study link) (1).

The study, published early online in the journal Pediatrics, surveyed close to 7,000 girls and young women aged 16 – 23 years in 2003 about their drinking behavior, then followed them through 2007, tracking health outcomes.  The researchers (which included CNiC’s Dr. Graham Colditz) found strong links between regular drinking and a diagnosis of benign breast disease over that period.  Drinking once or more each week significantly increased the risk of benign breast disease compared to those who drank rarely or not at all.  Drinking 3 – 5 days each week was linked to three times the risk.  Drinking 6 – 7 days each week was linked to five times the risk.

Alcohol is a well established cause of breast cancer (2).  So while the link between alcohol use and a possible increased risk of cancer later in life isn’t necessarily surprising, these findings are important because they show that  behaviors in the youth and young adult years likely play very key roles in the pathways that lead to cancer. Studies of soy and fiber intake early in life show similar results (related post) (3, 4) . This growing body of evidence points to the need to boost disease prevention efforts in youth while at the same time further explore the science behind early life choices and the impact this can have on later cancer risk. 

It’s been long known that youth is a key time for laying the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.  Avoiding smoking, keeping weight in a healthy range, being regularly active, and eating a healthy diet are all behaviors that, when started in youth, are more likely to carry through to adult life as well.  Now, with the results of this and other studies, the importance of fostering healthy choices in youth and young adulthood are even more compelling and something we shouldn’t wait to act upon.

Related Web links
8 Ways to Stay Healthy and Prevent Disease (includes tips for parents & grandparents) 
American Academy of Pediatrics – Policy Statement–Alcohol Use by Youth and Adolescents: A Pediatric Concern (free full text)

Related CNiC posts
Despite New Results – Keep Eating Your Fruits and Vegetables – April 8, 2010  
More Blistering Truths About Tanning Bed Use by Youths – April 5, 2008 
Adolescent diet prevents breast cancer – March 18, 2010

Literature cited

  1. Berkey, C.S., et al., Prospective Study of Adolescent Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Benign Breast Disease in Young Women. Pediatrics, 2010.
  2. Hamajima, N., et al., Alcohol, tobacco and breast cancer–collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 53 epidemiological studies, including 58,515 women with breast cancer and 95,067 women without the disease. Br J Cancer, 2002. 87(11): p. 1234-45.
  3. Wu, A.H., et al., Epidemiology of soy exposures and breast cancer risk. Br J Cancer, 2008. 98(1): p. 9-14.
  4. Su, X., et al., Intake of fiber and nuts during adolescence and incidence of proliferative benign breast disease. Cancer Causes Control.

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