A breast cancer diagnosis causes a great deal of concern for women. Some women may be concerned about the impact lifestyle choices they made before diagnosis will have on their prognosis. Alcohol consumption may be one of those concerns. Results from a new study could put their concerns at ease. The results demonstrated that disease-specific survival for breast cancer was not affected by overall alcohol consumption before diagnosis.1 Further, postdiagnosis alcohol intake did not have an association with breast cancer survival.

Results of previous research have shown that even moderate alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer. Relative risk of breast cancer is increased by 7% with every one-drink increase in average daily alcohol consumption (compared with a relative risk of 1% for nondrinkers).2 However, the data was unclear on how alcohol consumption before and after breast cancer diagnosis affected survival. This is an important issue for the 3 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.3,4

“There is very limited information on breast cancer survival in relation to alcohol intake, especially after diagnosis. Two studies appear in the literature but are quite small. One suggested an increase in breast mortality among women drinking three to four standard drinks per, based on 154 breast cancer deaths. The other was null in regards to the relationships between alcohol consumption and both recurrence and deaths due to breast cancer,” explained the lead author of the study, Polly A. Newcomb, PhD, MPH (e-mail communication, April 14, 2013). Newcomb is affiliated with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.

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This study assessed pre- and postdiagnostic alcohol consumption in 22,890 women. This cohort of women had incident invasive breast cancer that was diagnosed between 1985 and 2006; were residents of Wisconsin, Massachusetts, or New Hampshire; and were aged 20 to 79 years at diagnosis. All of the women reported consuming alcohol prior to diagnosis, whereas only 4,881 women reported postdiagnosis alcohol consumption.

Among these women, 7,780 deaths occurred over a median follow-up of 11.3 years, with 3,484 deaths due to breast cancer. Analyses found that moderate alcohol consumption (three to six drinks per week) before diagnosis had a modest association with disease-specific survival. Women who had moderate prediagnostic consumption had improved survival compared with nondrinking women. No association was found between disease-specific survival and heavy alcohol consumption (10 or more drinks per week).

Alcohol consumption after diagnosis was not associated with disease-specific survival, and the type of beverage did not affect the results. However, women who drank alcoholic beverages after diagnosis were more likely to have gained weight than those who did not drink alcoholic beverages.