Having lost two close friends to breast cancer, I follow all the latest research on the topic fairly obsessively. Earlier this year came a study indicating that 15 percent of deaths from breast cancer are caused by alcohol. In fact, breast cancer was found to be the most common cause of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in women. The report also found that even moderate amounts of alcohol may not be safe.
Now researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that mothers who had drunk around two units of alcohol a day, or the equivalent of one glass of wine, in the decade after their periods began were 34 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not drink during the same period.
Breast Tissue of Young Women Highly Vulnerable
The researchers believe that the breast tissue of young women, which is still developing, is highly susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol: when alcohol is broken down by the body, it creates a substance called acetaldehyde, which can trigger genetic mutations in cells that lead to tumors.
Alcohol also increases production of estrogen, the hormone linked to tumor growth.
The researchers, whose study is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, examined the history of 91,000 women aged 15 to 40. That’s a lot of women, so definitely worthy of our attention.
They were asked to recall how much alcohol they drank a day from the ages of 15 to 17, 18 to 22, and 23 to 30.
From The Telegraph:
The findings indicated a dose-dependent relationship, which means the more alcohol a woman drinks during that time, the higher her risk of developing breast cancer.
Dr. Liu (head of the research team) said: “The general consistency in the patterns of association between alcohol and risk of proliferative benign breast cancer disease and of breast cancer lends support to the hypothesis that alcohol intake, particularly before first pregnancy when breast tissue is likely at its most vulnerable stage, may play an important role in the etiology of breast cancer.”
From their answers, the researchers were able to make a rough estimate as to how much alcohol the women had drunk per day over the various stages of their lives.
Breast Cancer Risk Increased by 34 Percent
The results showed that women who drank a glass of wine a day between their first period and the age at which they had their first child increased their risk of breast cancer by 34 percent.
Of course it’s true that women who drink are more likely to develop many sorts of cancers compared with teetotalers. It’s also true that smoking, obesity, a lack of exercise, as well as alcohol, are all thought to trigger the illness.
With the growth of breast cancer awareness in our schools, including the wearing of boobie bracelets, this information about the dangers of teen drinking can easily be made available to young women.
Need For Breast Cancer Awareness
As a high school teacher, I am well aware that many of my students indulge in drinking at their weekend parties. Staring into their bleary-eyed faces on Monday morning, I know this is not the day I’m going to push back those barriers to learning and fill their minds with amazing new insights.
However, the issue of how to convince them that they are endangering their bodies is huge. Teenagers mostly believe themselves to be immortal. How can a few drinks make a difference?
Young women may not realize what a serious effect alcohol consumption can have on their bodies and their minds, but they should.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock
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