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Teen girls who drink alcohol are ratcheting up breast cancer risk

November 14, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Teenage girls who drink alcohol may be increasing their risk of breast cancer.
Teenage girls who drink alcohol may be increasing their risk of breast cancer. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Teenage girls who drink alcohol and have a family history of breast cancer are increasing their own risk of the disease.

Researchers from Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School conducted a health survey, published Sunday, on almost 7,000 girls ages 9 to 15. The surveys were repeated twice when the girls were 18 to 27. The participants' mothers were asked about their own history of benign breast disease, breast cancer and family history of breast cancer.

Not surprisingly, the study found that girls with a family history of breast cancer were more likely to develop benign breast disease in young adulthood -- more than twice as likely as girls with no family history.

But the study also showed that the more alcohol the higher-risk girls consumed, the more likely they were to develop benign breast disease -- which is a risk factor for cancer. Moreover, girls with a family history of breast cancer who had the most rapid growth spurt in height were at higher risk compared with girls without a family history.

Previous studies have shown that alcohol consumption in adult women raises the risk of breast cancer. The study suggests that risk factors for breast cancer are different depending on whether there is a family history of the disease.

"Our study suggests that adolescent females already at higher risk for breast cancer, in light of their family history, should be aware that avoiding alcohol may reduce their risk for benign breast disease as young women, which might be accompanied by reduced breast cancer risk later in life," Dr. Catherine Berkey, a biostatistician at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in a news release.

The study was published online in the journal Cancer.

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