Breast Cancer Risk Tied to Wine, Fat Intake

But moderate drinking lowers women's risk of the disease, study finds

WEDNESDAY, March 17, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A new Swedish study finds postmenopausal women who consume high amounts of alcohol, especially wine, are at a higher risk for breast cancer.

According to the study, women who drank more than roughly 1.5 glasses of wine per day were twice as likely to get the disease compared to women with little or no alcohol intake. Moderate drinkers, meanwhile, were found to be at a 12 percent lower risk of breast cancer.

Scientists had previously suspected that women who drink alcoholic beverages are at a greater risk of breast cancer. But not all studies have demonstrated a link, and the amount of alcohol required to boost the risk of the disease has been sketchy.

"There seems to be a threshold under which there is no effect of alcohol," explains study author Dr. Irene Mattisson, of the Department of Medicine, Surgery and Orthopaedics at Sweden's Lund University. "However, we cannot say anything on the exact level of the threshold because self-reported alcohol data is unreliable."

High dietary fat, long suspected to be a culprit in breast cancer, also was associated with the disease, the authors report. As amounts of fat in women's diets increased, so did their risk of breast cancer. Those who consumed the highest amounts saw their risk of getting breast cancer rise by 34 percent.

The authors observed the dietary and drinking habits of 11,726 postmenopausal women in the city of Malmö, using interviews and self-recorded diet histories. Physical exams were performed at the beginning of the study and the women were followed for an average of 7.6 years. A total of 342 breast cancer cases were documented during the study period.

While high intakes of wine boosted breast cancer risk, the study found no elevated risk for women reporting high levels of total alcohol consumption, including beer and spirits.

The study appears in the March 17 online issue of the International Journal of Cancer.

Teasing out the effects of different beverages becomes complicated due to misreporting, Mattisson notes. It's suspected that women reported the amount of wine they drank more accurately than the amount of total alcohol they consumed.

So should women who drink regularly and indulge in fatty foods modify their diets?

"If they drink alcohol regularly, they should definitely reduce their alcohol intake," Mattisson says. "There is so much evidence from different studies now pointing in the same direction. Alcohol should be used in moderation only."

Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says women should limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day to reduce their cancer risk, as the American Cancer Society advises.

Women also should eat a variety of foods to get the nutrients and chemicals their bodies need to fend off disease, she says. Fruits and vegetables, for example, contain antioxidants that help prevent cell damage from chemicals called free radicals. Nutrients found in protein give the body strength to resist disease. "It's sort of like a one-two punch," she says.

Reducing total fat to recommended levels is also highly advisable, Mattisson adds.

Keep in mind that all fats are not equal. Previous studies from the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study have shown that high intakes of omega-6 fatty acids, such as those found in sunflower and corn oils, increase the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.

Most Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, research shows, but do not get enough fatty acids from the omega-3 family, which includes rapeseed oil, fatty fish, and flax seed.

Mattisson advises women to increase their intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids from the omega-3 family and not to eat omega-6 oils in abundance.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more information on nutrition in cancer care, while the American Heart Association can tell you more about dietary fats.

SOURCES: Irene Mattisson, Ph.D., Department of Medicine, Surgery and Orthopaedics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden; Cindy Moore, M.S., R.D., spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, and director, nutrition therapy, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland; March 17, 2004, International Journal of Cancer online
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