Alcohol 'increases risk of breast cancer'

Every alcoholic drink a woman consumes increases her risk of breast cancer, the world's largest study of the link between alcohol, tobacco and breast cancer has found.

Every alcoholic drink a woman consumes increases her risk of breast cancer, the world's largest study of the link between alcohol, tobacco and breast cancer has found.

Drinking is rising, especially among young women, and the researchers estimate it accounts for 2,000 cases of breast cancer out of the 40,000 newly diagnosed each year in Britain. For each drink consumed daily, the study said, the risk increased by 6 per cent.

Yet moderate drinking also cuts the risk of heart disease by up to a fifth, is the most widely used social lubricant and brings pleasure to millions. Doctors said women had to weigh up the risks and benefits for themselves.

The study also unexpectedly showed that smoking did not contribute to breast cancer, even though it is linked with 15 other types and is thought to be a cause of a third of all cancers. Scientists from Cancer Research UK combined the results of more than 50 studies involving 150,000 women around the world, of whom 58,000 had breast cancer. The size of the review allowed them for the first time to disentangle the effects of smoking from drinking.

Professor Valerie Beral, co-author of the study published in the British Journal of Cancer, said average alcohol consumption had risen in the past decade. The proportion of women aged 16-24 consuming more than three drinks a day had doubled, to 18 per cent.

"There is a definite link between alcohol and breast cancer. The impact is small compared to childbearing factors [which reduce the risk] but women are drinking more now than they used to and if this trend continues it is bound to have an impact on rates of breast cancer."

Sir Richard Doll, Britain's top cancer researcher and an author of the study, said the benefits of moderate drinking on the heart could outweigh the higher risk of cancer, especially for younger women.

He said: "A lot of things in life carry a small risk and moderate drinking gives pleasure."

The underlying risk of breast cancer means that in non-drinkers, by the age of 80, there will be 8.8 cases per 100 women.

This increases to 9.4 cases for those who have one alcoholic drink daily and to 13.3 cases for those who have six drinks each day.

One drink is defined as containing 8g of alcohol, equivalent to approximately half a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a single measure of spirits.

Jean Coussins, director of the Portman Group, the drinks industry's self-regulatory body, said: "This research underlines the crucial importance of the sensible drinking message being taken on board particularly by 16 to 24-year-old women. The Government should be putting significant resources into a targeted public education campaign."

The charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer said it had been concerned for some time about the possible relationship between alcohol and breast cancer.

"The study published today goes some way to confirm our fears," a spokeswoman said. "The causes of breast cancer are complex and further research in this area is needed to prove a causal link.

"However, adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet can help reduce the risk of developing cancer in general and we would encourage people, if they do drink alcohol, to do so in moderation."

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