Rise in breast cancer linked to women drinking more

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The Independent Online
An increase in women's drinking may account for the rapid rise in breast cancer which has claimed 300,000 lives in the last 20 years, researchers said yesterday.

A review of six studies shows that women who have between two and a half and six alcoholic drinks a day increase their risk of breast cancer by over 40 per cent. A drink is counted as half a pint of beer, a glass of wine or a tot of spirits. The finding is in line with previous research.

However, doctors say moderate drinking is still good for most women because it cuts the risk of heart disease. Women are 10 times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer in old age, and over twice as likely in middle age, so the protective effect of alcohol on the heart is more important for most women than its damaging effect on the breast.

The latest review of the link between alcohol and breast cancer, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined six studies in Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US. The total of 322,000 women were monitored for 11 years, and 4,300 developed the disease.

Breast cancer deaths in Britain rose by 20 per cent between the 1960s and the late 1980s to 16,000 a year, one of the highest rates in the world.

Professor Richard Peto, a cancer epidemiologist at Oxford University, said: "There is no doubt that alcohol does increase the risk of breast cancer developing and it must be partly responsible for the rise in deaths from the 1960s to the 1980s. The question is what is the net effect of moderate drinking [after taking account of its effect on heart disease]? In old age it is massively favourable and in middle age it is probably moderately favourable."

Since the late 1980s, breast cancer deaths have fallen sharply, to around 14,000 a year, chiefly as a result of the the hormonal drug Tamoxifen.