The complex association between moderate alcohol consumption and breast cancer

October 23, 2012

An excellent review article from two scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the USA to be published in Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2012, describes the epidemiologic and basic scientific evidence linking alcohol consumption to the risk of breast cancer.

The authors point out deficiencies in the epidemiologic data, especially that the pattern of drinking (regular moderate versus binge drinking) has generally not been taken into consideration, important given that binge drinking is associated with much higher blood alcohol concentrations and acetaldehyde accumulation. Further, epidemiologic studies usually provide data for only a short period of time, while the development of cancer may relate to exposures over many decades. The authors also comment upon the effect that under-reporting of alcohol by study participants could exaggerate effects on cancer risk from light drinking. They discuss two hypotheses that could relate alcohol to breast cancer risk: alcohol as a breast tumour promoter, and alcohol as a weak cumulative breast carcinogen, and present evidence from epidemiology and basic science that would relate to each hypothesis.

Overall, Forum reviewers were enthusiastic about this review paper, considering that it clearly outlined some of the difficulties scientists have in determining the causes of cancer. They agreed with the authors' statements regarding the necessity to consider the overall net effects of moderate drinking, including reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease and total mortality. They also agreed that future epidemiologic studies should focus on the pattern of drinking, i.e. little and often versus episodic and not just the average weekly amount of alcohol, and with their suggestions for future animal studies. One Forum reviewer cautioned that our understanding of the causes of breast cancer is still very incomplete, limiting our ability to provide well-founded recommendations to the public regarding moderate drinking as it relates to breast cancer risk.
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Reference: Brooks PJ, Zakhari S. Moderate alcohol consumption and breast cancer in women: From epidemiology to mechanisms and interventions. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 2012; pre-publication: DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01888.x.

Comments on this paper were provided by the following members of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research:

Erik Skovenborg, MD, Scandinavian Medical Alcohol Board, Practitioner, Aarhus, Denmark

Harvey Finkel, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Boston University Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA

Lynn Gretkowski, MD, Obstetrics/Gynecology, Mountainview, CA, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

R. Curtis Ellison, MD, Section of Preventive Medicine & Epidemiology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

David Van Velden, MD, Dept. of Pathology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Arne Svilaas, MD, PhD, general practice and lipidology, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway

Fulvio Ursini, MD, Dept. of Biological Chemistry, University of Padova, Padova, Italy

For the detailed critique of this paper by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research and a listing of references, go to www.bu.edu/alcohol-forum, click on http://www.bu.edu/alcohol-forum/critique-094-the-complex-association-between-moderate-alcohol-consumption-and-breast-cancer-23-october-2012/

The specialists who are members of the Forum are happy to respond to questions from Health Editors regarding emerging research on alcohol and health and will offer an independent opinion in context with other research on the subject

International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research Examining risks and benefits of alcohol consumption www.bu.edu/alcohol-forumwww.alcoholforum4profs.org

Critique 094: The complex association between moderate alcohol consumption and breast cancer --- 23 October 2012

Read full critique here: http://www.bu.edu/alcohol-forum/critique-094-the-complex-association-between-moderate-alcohol-consumption-and-breast-cancer-23-october-2012/

Contacts for Editors

Professor R Curtis Ellison: ellison@bu.edu

Helena Conibear: helena@alcohol-forum4profs.org, Tel: +44 1300 320869 or +44 7876 593 345

Boston University Medical Center

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