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Harvard Study Ties Teenage Drinking to Breast Cancer Risk

December 13, 2013

Orginally published Jan. 17, 2012

In what is likely to be a much talked-about report, a study led by a Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital biostatistician has found that drinking alcohol as a teenager may increase the risk of developing breast cancer later on, for women with the disease in their families. The study is being published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Catherine Berkey, of Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, studied which childhood and adolescent risk factors might increase the incidence of benign breast disease among girls with a family history of breast cancer. Benign breast disease is a risk factor for breast cancer, researchers say. Berkey and her team found there was a significant association between the amount of alcohol consumed as adolescents and further increased risk of getting benign breast disease as young women.

“Our study suggests that adolescent females already at higher risk for breast cancer, in light of their family history, should be aware that avoiding alcohol may reduce their risk for benign breast disease as young women, which might be accompanied by reduced breast cancer risk later in life” Berkey said in a statement.

The investigators used data from the so-called Growing Up Today Study, a long-running study that includes females who were aged nine to 15 years old in 1996, to reach their conclusions. The girls reported their alcohol consumption, age at first menstrual period, height and body mass index.

About 10 percent of the girls in the study reported that they had been diagnosed with benign breast disease in the final two surveys, which took place when the participants were 18 years old to 27 years old.

The study found that for adolescent girls having a mother, aunt or grandmother with breast cancer, the more alcohol the girls consumed, the more likely they were to develop benign breast disease, sometimes a precursor to breast cancer, as young women.

Story reprinted with permission of the Boston Business Journal