By Margarita Nahapetyan
Results of a new study by U.S. scientists show that female teenagers who consume alcohol are putting themselves at higher risk of developing breast disease later in life, a condition that is a known risk factor for cancer.
Breast disease is characterized by hard lumps in the breast which can turn cancerous at a certain point. According to the National Cancer Institute, women with benign breast disease also may have irregular cysts, experience breast discomfort, sensitive nipples, and itching.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Harvard University looked at nearly 6,900 girls with the ages between 9 and 15 years old at the beginning of the study and followed them using health surveys from 1996 to 2007. All the girls were part of the Growing Up Today Study that involved more than 9,000 girls from all the 50 states and were daughters of women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study II, one of the largest and longest-running researches of factors that have an affect on women's health.
The participants in the study were asked to report how much alcohol they consumed on a weekly basis and whether they had ever been diagnosed with benign breast disease. At the end the investigators found that the more alcohol was consumed during teen years, the more odds had the participants of developing benign breast disease. At age between 18 and 27 years, 147 of the 6,900 young women reported that a medical professional had ever diagnosed them with benign breast disease. Sixty-seven of them said that this diagnosis had been confirmed by biopsy.
In particular, it was found that those who drank beverages containing alcohol six or seven days per week were five times more likely to get benign breast disease in the future when compared to those who did not drink or who had less than one alcoholic drink per week. Women who reported consuming three to five days per week had three times the risk of developing the condition.
The women, who at a later time were diagnosed with benign breast disease, were found to drink more alcohol on average, they also drank more on each occasion and had an average daily consumption that was two times more when compared to those who did not have benign breast disease. These ladies also had more episodes of binge drinking.
Earlier studies have already demonstrated that there is a relationship between adolescent drinking and benign breast disease. Those findings were based on women's recollections many years later, but the new research appears to be the first to investigate alcohol consumption directly during teen years and follow the girls into adulthood.
The risk of benign breast disease comes on top of mounting evidence that alcohol interferes with the brain development that continues into early adulthood, said Catherine S. Berkey, ScD, of Harvard's Channing Laboratory in Boston. At this moment it is not yet clear why alcohol would have such an effect on the breast disease, but the experts speculate that alcohol's effect on estrogen could contribute to the growth of breast tissue.
The study was published online April 12 and will appear in the May, 2010, issue of the journal Pediatrics. It was funded in part by the National Institute of Health and Breast Cancer Research Foundation.