Heavy drinking before motherhood increases breast cancer risk

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Hitting the booze hard during your college years might not be the best plan – if you want to get pregnant, that is.

A new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that the more alcohol a woman consumes before motherhood, the greater her risk of future breast cancer.

While previous research has looked at the link between breast cancer risk and alcohol consumption later in life, this is the first project to examine how drinking between early adolescence and a first full-term pregnancy can increase risk for the disease.

Every bottle ups risk

The study analyzed the health histories of 91,005 mothers enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study II from 1989 to 2009. Researchers found that for every bottle of beer, glass of wine or shot of liquor consumed daily, a woman's risk of proliferative benign breast disease increased by a whopping 15 percent. And while these types of lesions aren't cancerous, they can increase breast cancer risk by up to 500 percent, the study authors wrote in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"More and more heavy drinking is occurring on college campuses and during adolescence, and not enough people are considering future risk," co-author Graham Colditz said in a statement.

The researchers did not account for how heavy drinking during younger years affected women who didn't have a full-term pregnancy.

Some research has suggested that pregnancy can increase short-term breast cancer risk while lowering long-term risk.

Young women should drink less

Since breast tissue cells are more susceptible to cancer as they proliferate during adolescence and beyond, young women should drink less alcohol, the researchers concluded.

"Reducing drinking to less than one drink per day, especially during this time period, is a key strategy to reducing lifetime risk of breast cancer," they noted.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, four out of five college students drink and half can be classified as binge drinkers.

"Parents should educate their daughters about the link between drinking and risk of breast cancer and breast disease," study coauthor Ying Liu said. "That's very important because this time period is very critical."

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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