Alcohol use increases the risk of hormonally sensitive breast cancers in postmenopausal women

October 30, 2003

SEATTLE - Older women with a history of alcohol use are significantly more likely than nondrinkers to be diagnosed with hormonally sensitive forms of breast cancer, including lobular carcinomas and estrogen-receptor positive (ER+) and progesterone-receptor positive (PR+) tumors, according to researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Lead author Christopher I. Li, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues report their findings in the October issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

"Women who were current drinkers who reported consuming at least 30 grams of alcohol a day - roughly the equivalent of two drinks - had an 80 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to nondrinkers," said Li, an assistant member of Fred Hutchinson's Public Health Sciences Division.

The risk varied by cellular, or histologic, breast-cancer type. "Current consumers of two or more drinks per day had more than three times the risk of lobular cancer (a 330 percent increased risk) and a 50 percent increased risk of ductal cancer," Li said.

While lobular breast cancer, which involves the lobules, or chambers in the breast that contain milk-producing glands, accounts for only 10 percent to 15 percent of all breast-cancer cases, its incidence is on the rise. Li and colleagues earlier this year reported a 65 percent increase in lobular cancer during the past decade, a trend that may be due to the increased use of combined estrogen and progestin hormone-replacement therapy, Li said (Journal of the American Medical Association, March 19, 2003).

Ductal breast cancer, which involves the ducts that carry milk from the lobules to the nipple, accounts for about 80 percent of cases. The incidence of this form of breast cancer has remained essentially constant during the past decade.

While somewhat more difficult to diagnose than ductal breast cancers, lobular carcinomas tend to be ER+ and PR+, which means they are more responsive to hormonal therapies such as tamoxifen that block the tumor-promoting effects of estrogen. Li and colleagues observed that current users of alcohol had a 40 percent increased risk of ER+/PR+ breast cancers.

"The marked increase in hormonally sensitive breast cancers, including lobular and ER+/PR+ tumors, among women who drink suggests a hormonal basis for the known association between alcohol use and breast-cancer incidence," Li said. "Alcohol is known to increase estrogen levels in the blood, and therefore it could stimulate hormonally sensitive tumors."

The researchers found no association between alcohol use and increased incidence of hormonally insensitive cancers (estrogen-receptor negative and progesterone-receptor negative, or ER-/PR-, tumors). Since these types of tumors can grow independent of estrogen and progesterone, they are unresponsive to hormonal blockers such as tamoxifen and therefore are more difficult to treat.

While alcohol use has been associated with a moderate increase in breast-cancer risk, few studies, until now, have stratified results by histology (cancer type) or hormone-receptor status, Li said.

"This is one of the first studies to evaluate the relationship between alcohol use and breast cancer and how alcohol consumption modifies the risk of different types of breast cancer. While our results suggest that alcohol is strongly associated with hormonally responsive types of breast cancer, they need to be confirmed by other researchers," said Li, also a research assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

Nearly 2,000 western Washington women, ages 65 to 79, were interviewed for the study; half had a history of breast cancer and half did not. Those with a history of breast cancer were identified through Fred Hutchinson's Cancer Surveillance System, a population-based registry of cancer incidence in western Washington. Those who served as controls were identified through Health Care Financing Administration records.The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, was designed to help researchers understand the causes of breast cancer among older women, a group that accounts for more than one-third of newly diagnosed breast malignancies in the United States. In addition to alcohol use, other factors studied included hormone use, genetics, medication use, and medical/reproductive history.
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of two Nobel laureates, is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Fred Hutchinson receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other independent U.S. research center. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical partners, the University of Washington Academic Medical Center and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 39 nationwide. For more information, visit the center's Web site at

Advancing Knowledge, Saving Lives

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Related Breast Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

Oncotarget: IGF2 expression in breast cancer tumors and in breast cancer cells
The Oncotarget authors propose that methylation of DVDMR represents a novel epigenetic biomarker that determines the levels of IGF2 protein expression in breast cancer.

Breast cancer: AI predicts which pre-malignant breast lesions will progress to advanced cancer
New research at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, could help better determine which patients diagnosed with the pre-malignant breast cancer commonly as stage 0 are likely to progress to invasive breast cancer and therefore might benefit from additional therapy over and above surgery alone.

Partial breast irradiation effective treatment option for low-risk breast cancer
Partial breast irradiation produces similar long-term survival rates and risk for recurrence compared with whole breast irradiation for many women with low-risk, early stage breast cancer, according to new clinical data from a national clinical trial involving researchers from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - Arthur G.

Breast screening linked to 60 per cent lower risk of breast cancer death in first 10 years
Women who take part in breast screening have a significantly greater benefit from treatments than those who are not screened, according to a study of more than 50,000 women.

More clues revealed in link between normal breast changes and invasive breast cancer
A research team, led by investigators from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, details how a natural and dramatic process -- changes in mammary glands to accommodate breastfeeding -- uses a molecular process believed to contribute to survival of pre-malignant breast cells.

Breast tissue tumor suppressor PTEN: A potential Achilles heel for breast cancer cells
A highly collaborative team of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina and Ohio State University report in Nature Communications that they have identified a novel pathway for connective tissue PTEN in breast cancer cell response to radiotherapy.

Computers equal radiologists in assessing breast density and associated breast cancer risk
Automated breast-density evaluation was just as accurate in predicting women's risk of breast cancer, found and not found by mammography, as subjective evaluation done by radiologists, in a study led by researchers at UC San Francisco and Mayo Clinic.

Blood test can effectively rule out breast cancer, regardless of breast density
A new study published in PLOS ONE demonstrates that Videssa® Breast, a multi-protein biomarker blood test for breast cancer, is unaffected by breast density and can reliably rule out breast cancer in women with both dense and non-dense breast tissue.

Study shows influence of surgeons on likelihood of removal of healthy breast after breast cancer dia
Attending surgeons can have a strong influence on whether a patient undergoes contralateral prophylactic mastectomy after a diagnosis of breast cancer, according to a study published by JAMA Surgery.

Young breast cancer patients undergoing breast conserving surgery see improved prognosis
A new analysis indicates that breast cancer prognoses have improved over time in young women treated with breast conserving surgery.

Read More: Breast Cancer News and Breast Cancer Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to