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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Tuesday, April 15 2008. 12:24

Excess Alcohol May Increase Breast Cancer Risk

According to a new study presented on Sunday at the four-day annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in San Diego, drinking alcohol in excess can greatly increase the risk of developing breast cancer amongst post-menopausal women.

The study was carried out by a team led by Dr. Jasmine Lew, a fourth year medical student at the University of Chicago. It followed more than 184,000 postmenopausal women for seven years on the average.

The study found that those who had less than one drink a day (14gms alcohol) had a 7% increased risk for breast cancer compared to those who did not drink at all. Two drinks a day increased the risk by 32% (28 gms of alcohol). Women who drank three or more glasses of alcohol each day had a 51% higher risk.

Lew is conducting this research as a recipient of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-National Institutes of Health Research Scholarship at the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. She and her research colleagues from NCI say their analysis could not support a definitive conclusion as to whether alcohol influences development of other breast cancer tumour types. "But we have enough numbers to study alcohol's influence on ER+/PR+ breast cancer," cites the conference abstract.

Previous data has suggested that consuming alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, although the precise mechanisms have not been clarified.

According to Lew, alcohol increases a postmenopausal woman's risk of developing cancer due to its ability to interfere with the metabolising of estrogens in the body.

"This suggests that a woman should evaluate consumption of alcohol along with other known breast cancer risk factors, such as use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)," she added.

She said it was too early to make public health recommendations but said women should talk with their doctors to assess risk factors and consider lifestyle changes.

DelWine Perspective

Similar findings have been reported earlier in several studies. During the 2nd International Heart and Health Convention which I attended in Napa in early 2003, the issue had also been discussed by doctors, notably Dr. Curtis Ellison, a Professor of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University, and Director of the Institute on Lifestyle and Health, who has been involved in several such studies.

Dr. Ellison had emphasised-and this point has been highlighted by many other studies and findings - that women are safe only up to one drink a day while the men are ok with two-due to biological factors. In fact, Dr. Ellison admits that women are put to a higher risk of 10% even with one glass of wine.

His recommendations were that consumption of folic acid in the form of foliate pills, which women are prescribed generally post- pregnancy, reduces the increased risk to practically nil. I had discussed it with him after my return. I also talked to a few senior doctor friends who told me that the pills were easily available as un-prescribed drugs for about Rs.3 (8 cents) a strip. In fact, multi-vitamins for women generally include it as an ingredient too.

Indian Wine Academy has, ever since, warned women of the increased breast cancer risk and advised wine - drinking women to take foliate tablets regularly and discuss with their doctor.

Delhi Wine Club had organised a seminar at the French Embassy, New Delhi, India in 2004, on 'The French Paradox' (Dr. Ellison had appeared on the American TV programme, '60 minutes', in 1990 along with the French scientist, Dr. Sergio Reynaud when the term was coined) where I was a speaker too. A lady doctor in the audience - I think she was a cancer specialist, had admonished me for making a public statement where I 'created' a scare by mentioning the increased risk and cautioning women about excess consumption of wine or any other form of alcohol.

In this connection, readers are recommended to read an interview of Dr. Ellison with ABC TV 9 years ago.

A pertinent point which this and similar studies fail to address is that in Europe, especially in Italy and France, women drink a much higher quantity of wine and yet these risks are found to be much lower. 'We know that women in Italy, France and Spain consume up to ten times as much wine as women in the UK, Ireland and the US, yet their rates of breast cancer are actually somewhat lower,' says Dr. Ellison in another article

Subhash Arora
April 14, 2008

Our health recommendations are the same as before- A glass a day for women and two for men. Women should take foliate pills under their doctor's advice. Red wine is desirable, but you should drink what you prefer. Drink less but drink better-Editor


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