According to a new study presented
on Sunday at the four-day annual meeting of the American
Association for Cancer Research in San Diego, drinking alcohol
in excess can greatly increase the risk of developing breast
cancer amongst post-menopausal women.
The study was carried out by a team led
by Dr. Jasmine Lew, a fourth year medical student at the
University of Chicago. It followed more than 184,000 postmenopausal
women for seven years on the average.
The study found that those who had less
than one drink a day (14gms alcohol) had a 7% increased
risk for breast cancer compared to those who did not drink
at all. Two drinks a day increased the risk by 32% (28 gms
of alcohol). Women who drank three or more glasses of alcohol
each day had a 51% higher risk.
Lew is conducting this research as a recipient
of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-National Institutes
of Health Research Scholarship at the National Cancer Institute's
Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. She and her
research colleagues from NCI say their analysis could not
support a definitive conclusion as to whether alcohol influences
development of other breast cancer tumour types. "But
we have enough numbers to study alcohol's influence on ER+/PR+
breast cancer," cites the conference abstract.
Previous data has suggested that consuming
alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, although the
precise mechanisms have not been clarified.
According to Lew, alcohol increases a postmenopausal
woman's risk of developing cancer due to its ability to
interfere with the metabolising of estrogens in the body.
"This suggests that a woman should
evaluate consumption of alcohol along with other known breast
cancer risk factors, such as use of hormone replacement
therapy (HRT)," she added.
She said it was too early to make public
health recommendations but said women should talk with their
doctors to assess risk factors and consider lifestyle changes.
Similar findings have been reported earlier
in several studies. During the 2nd International Heart and
Health Convention which I attended in Napa in early 2003,
the issue had also been discussed by doctors, notably Dr.
Curtis Ellison, a Professor of Medicine and Public Health
at Boston University, and Director of the Institute on Lifestyle
and Health, who has been involved in several such studies.
Dr. Ellison had emphasised-and this point
has been highlighted by many other studies and findings
- that women are safe only up to one drink a day while the
men are ok with two-due to biological factors. In fact,
Dr. Ellison admits that women are put to a higher risk of
10% even with one glass of wine.
His recommendations were that consumption
of folic acid in the form of foliate pills, which women
are prescribed generally post- pregnancy, reduces the increased
risk to practically nil. I had discussed it with him after
my return. I also talked to a few senior doctor friends
who told me that the pills were easily available as un-prescribed
drugs for about Rs.3 (8 cents) a strip. In fact, multi-vitamins
for women generally include it as an ingredient too.
Indian Wine Academy has, ever since,
warned women of the increased breast cancer risk and advised
wine - drinking women to take foliate tablets regularly
and discuss with their doctor.
Delhi Wine Club had organised a seminar
at the French Embassy, New Delhi, India in 2004, on 'The
French Paradox' (Dr. Ellison had appeared on the American
TV programme, '60 minutes', in 1990 along with the French
scientist, Dr. Sergio Reynaud when the term was coined)
where I was a speaker too. A lady doctor in the audience
- I think she was a cancer specialist, had admonished me
for making a public statement where I 'created' a scare
by mentioning the increased risk and cautioning women about
excess consumption of wine or any other form of alcohol.
In this connection, readers are recommended
to read an interview of Dr. Ellison with ABC
TV 9 years ago.
A pertinent point which this and similar
studies fail to address is that in Europe, especially in
Italy and France, women drink a much higher quantity of
wine and yet these risks are found to be much lower. 'We
know that women in Italy, France and Spain consume up to
ten times as much wine as women in the UK, Ireland and the
US, yet their rates of breast cancer are actually somewhat
lower,' says Dr. Ellison in another article
April 14, 2008
Our health recommendations are the
same as before- A glass a day for women and two for men.
Women should take foliate pills under their doctor's advice.
Red wine is desirable, but you should drink what you prefer.
Drink less but drink better-Editor