Drinking alcohol raises the already elevated risk that teen girls with a family history of breast disease have of developing benign breast disease as young women, a new study shows.
Benign breast disease is a large class of conditions that can cause inflammatory lesions or pain in the breasts, and has been previously identified as a risk factor for breast cancer. Women in the study whose mothers or aunts had breast cancer were more than twice as likely to develop benign breast disease as women with no family history, according to the study.
Drinking alcohol further heightened the risk of women with either a family history of breast cancer or benign breast disease, according to the study. Young women without a family history of breast disease did not see an elevated risk of benign breast lesions if they drank alcohol.
"We have tried to disentangle the effects of alcohol in women with a family history that includes both breast cancer and benign breast disease, compared to women with no family history," study researcher Dr. Graham A. Colditz, an epidemiologist and professor of surgery at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a statement. "And we're seeing the strongest effect of alcohol in women with breast disease in the family."
Colditz and his colleagues looked at alcohol consumption in adolescents, and the risk of developing the benign lesions that can lead to invasive breast cancer. In 1996, the researchers asked 9,000 girls from 50 states, who are daughters of participants in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study II, to complete questionnaires. At the time, the girls were between the ages of 9 and 15.
The participants completed follow-up questionnaires over the next five years, as well as surveys in 2003, 2005 and 2007. The researchers tracked each participant's family history of benign breast disease, height, weight, waist circumference, age of first menstrual period and alcoholic beverage intake, among other factors that may influence breast cancer risk.
The 2005 and 2007 surveys, conducted when the participants were ages 18 to 27, showed that 67 women had developed benign breast disease.
"The most common question we hear from women with a family history of breast disease is, 'How can we prevent breast cancer in our daughters?'" Colditz said. "This points to a strategy to lower risk — or avoid increasing risk — by limiting alcohol intake."
The study was published Monday (Nov. 14) in the journal Cancer.
Pass it on: By avoiding alcohol, teen girls with a family history of breast disease may lower their risk of developing benign breast disease.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.