Adolescent girls who consume alcohol may have an increased risk of developing benign breast disease as young women, according to a study published in Pediatrics. Benign breast disease may increase risk for developing breast cancer.

Previous studies have linked alcohol intake among adult women with an increased risk of breast cancer. As research into prevention of cancers and other diseases, however, has shown that certain behaviors and exposures earlier in life can affect disease risk, a better understanding of long-term health effects of alcohol consumption during youth is a likely step in prevention. One researcher in this recent study noted that a link between alcohol intake during adolescence and breast cancer risk is of particular interest because as teenagers, girls’ breasts are developing rapidly.

To investigate whether alcohol consumption among teenage girls may affect their risk of breast cancer later in life, researchers followed close to 7,000 U.S. girls from ages 9 to 15 through ages18 to 27. The study began in 1996 with annual questionnaires and concluded in 2007. During this time girls were asked about their consumption of alcoholic beverages (quantity and frequency), whether a healthcare provider had ever diagnosed them with benign breast disease, and whether the diagnosis was confirmed by biopsy.

  • 147 young women (aged 18 to 27) had been diagnosed with benign breast disease, and 67 of these cases were confirmed by biopsy.
  • A greater amount of alcohol consumed by girls and young women was associated with an increased risk of biopsy-confirmed benign breast disease.
  • Girls who drank six or seven days per week had a higher risk of benign breast disease than those who never drank or drank less than once per week.

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The researchers concluded that teenage girls who drink large quantities of alcohol and do so frequently have an increased risk of benign breast disease, which may increase their risk of developing breast cancer later in life. It appears that—similar to advising teenagers to limit sun exposure and not smoke to reduce skin and lung cancer risk, respectively—counseling girls to avoid alcoholic beverages may reduce long-term risk of breast cancer.

Reference: Berkey CS, Willett WC, Frazier AL, et al. Prospective Study of Adolescent Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Benign Breast Disease in Young Women. Pediatrics [early online publication]. April 12, 2010.

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