Study confirms link between alcohol consumption, breast cancer risk in black women

May 1, 2017, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Alcohol consumption is known to be a risk factor for breast cancer based on studies predominately done in white women. Now a University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center study has found the same risk exists for black women, an understudied group.

Researchers found in the new study that black women who drank more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week had a significantly higher risk of invasive breast cancer than those who drank less. The findings, published in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, confirmed the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk, which has been seen in other studies drawn from majority white populations.

And while some breast cancer risk factors - like age or genetics—aren't easily modified, alcohol consumption is one risk factor that women, regardless of race, can change to potentially lower their cancer risk.

"Minority groups are often understudied because they represent a smaller proportion of study populations. This work avoided that limitation by working with a consortium of many different studies, including more than 20,000 black women," said Melissa Troester, PhD, a member of UNC Lineberger and professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. "We found that the patterns observed in other studies examining alcohol and breast cancer risk hold in black women, too."

The researchers analyzed data for 22,338 women from the African American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk (AMBER) consortium, which combines data from four large breast cancer studies. Researchers evaluated alcohol as a risk factor for invasive breast cancer as well as for specific breast cancer subtypes, such as estrogen receptor positive or negative cancer.

"Our study demonstrated there is benefit in creating consortia to focus on understudied groups," said the study's first author Lindsay Williams, a graduate research assistant at UNC Gillings.

When they studied the data across all breast cancer subtypes, they found consuming seven or more alcoholic drinks per week was linked to increased risk of breast cancer across all subtypes. Women who previously drank alcohol, and later stopped, had lower risk than women who reported recent use - indicating that women may be able to reduce their risk by drinking less.

However, they did find significantly higher risk for some women who have never drank alcohol. The researchers said that the group of women that avoids alcohol also sometimes includes women who have other health conditions, and some of these health conditions can increase risk for breast cancer. The finding may direct additional research.

"In the future, it may be worth-while to better characterize women who identify as never drinkers to understand reasons for abstaining from alcohol," Williams said.

The researchers underscored that the study is important as alcohol consumption can be changed or addressed.

"Overall, our findings among African American women mirror those reported in the literature for white women, namely that high levels of alcohol intake - more than one drink per day - are associated with increased breast cancer risk," Troester said. "Alcohol is an important modifiable exposure, and women who are concerned about their risk of breast cancer could consider reducing levels of exposure."

Explore further: Researchers identify breast cancer risk factors for younger, black women

Related Stories

Researchers identify breast cancer risk factors for younger, black women

October 19, 2016
Black women under the age of 45 are at increased risk for an aggressive form of breast cancer [estrogen receptor (ER) negative] if they experienced a high number of pregnancies, never breast fed, and/or had higher waist-to-hip ...

Alcohol consumption contributes to cancer, even in moderate drinkers

June 27, 2016
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of several types of cancer, and was responsible for 236 cancer deaths under 80 years of age in New Zealand in 2012, according to a new study at the University of Otago.

Study confirms breast cancer link to low alcohol use

September 26, 2014
A newly published study from the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) confirms that moderate drinkers have an increased risk of breast cancer. The study shows that consuming an average of ...

Alcohol consumption has no impact on breast cancer survival

April 8, 2013
Although previous research has linked alcohol consumption to an increased risk of developing breast cancer, a new study has found that drinking before and after diagnosis does not impact survival from the disease. In fact, ...

Recommended for you

A bad influence—the interplay between tumor cells and immune cells

October 16, 2018
Research at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) yielded new insights into the environment surrounding different types of lung tumors, and described how these complex cell ecosystems may in turn ...

Student develops microfluidics device to help scientists identify early genetic markers of cancer

October 16, 2018
As anyone who has played "Where's Waldo" knows, searching for a single item in a landscape filled with a mélange of characters and objects can be a challenge. Chrissy O'Keefe, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical ...

Technique to 'listen' to a patient's brain during tumour surgery

October 16, 2018
Surgeons could soon eavesdrop on a patient's brain activity during surgery to remove their brain tumour, helping improve the accuracy of the operation and reduce the risk of impairing brain function.

Researchers elucidate roles of TP63 and SOX2 in squamous cell cancer progression

October 16, 2018
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are aggressive malignancies arising from the squamous epithelium of various organs, such as the esophagus, head and neck, lungs, and skin. Previous studies have demonstrated that two master ...

Function of neutrophils during tumor progression unraveled

October 15, 2018
Researchers at The Wistar Institute have characterized the function of neutrophils, a type of white blood cells, during early stages of tumor progression, showing that they migrate from the bone marrow to distant sites and ...

Delving where few others have gone, leukemia researchers open new path

October 15, 2018
A Wilmot Cancer Institute study uncovers how a single gene could be at fault in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), one of the deadliest cancers. The breakthrough gives researchers renewed hope that a gene-targeted therapy could ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.