Considering most women don’t receive their first mammogram until they’re at least 50 years old, a new discovery in breast cancer research linking the amount of beer, wine, or liquor a woman drinks between her first menstrual cycle and her first pregnancy comes as a surprising shock to many.
The study, held by the St. Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine, reports, “If a female averages a drink per day between her first period and her first full-term pregnancy, she increases her risk of breast cancer by 13 per cent.” The research study reviewed the health histories from 1989 to 2009 of over 91,000 mothers.
While it’s certainly not news that alcohol and incidence of breast cancer are linked, the startling aspect of this research is simply how significant those younger years truly impact a woman’s 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond. The research is suggesting, as well, that merely one drink per day during those years can be detrimental, increasing a woman’s “risk of proliferative benign breast disease by 15 per cent,” explains the research further.
Benign breast disease is non-cancerous tissue in the form of lesions in the breast but despite its non-cancerous properties, those lesions can increase a woman’s “risk of cancer by as much as 500 percent,” explains Ying Liu, the primary author of the study.
So how does the information impact the traditional American college experience? The CDC reports that, “About 90% of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.” A “binge” qualifies as 4 or more drinks in a row for women, and 5 or more in a row for men. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that approximately 50 percent of college-aged students are drinking quantities of alcohol that qualify as a binge, and “four out of five college students” consume alcohol in general.
The other dangers and statistics around alcohol consumption during youth and college only add further to the point that perhaps the age-old culture of partying-hard in college might be in desperate need for reform. The NIAAA reports that over 690,000 students age 18 to 24 are victims of assault by other students who have been drinking. Over 97,000 students are reported to be victims of “alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape,” and almost 600,000 are injured during their college years when drinking, with 1,825 of those injuries leading to death.
For a college-aged woman to consider than every drink she consumes during those crucial years will have a significant impact on her future health and risk of breast cancer would likely be very difficult for many to grasp. This cultural tradition of binge-drinking during college is something the United States college environment is known well for.
Meanwhile, according to Cancer.org, breast cancer accounts for 29 percent of new cancer diagnosis each year, followed by lung, colon, uterine and thyroid cancers.
How does this study conflict with the recommendation that drinking a glass of red wine each day “keeps the doctor away” as Harvard Researchers have suggested in multiples studies over the years? “In 1992 Harvard researchers included moderate alcohol consumption as one of the “eight proven ways to reduce coronary heart disease risk,” states the Yale New Haven Hospital website. Health Magazine, read primarily by young women and women in their 20s and 30s, is one of many publications dedicated to women that offers a multiple-page story around the benefits of drinking a serving alcohol once per day, touting benefits such as better memory, better bodyweight and BMI, boost to the immune system, protective against ovarian cancer, and stronger bones.
So the what message should we be giving to young women around alcohol based on shocking new research revealing that simply one drink per day between a woman’s first period and first conception raises their risk of breast cancer by 13 percent? It seems inevitable, that more research will be done, but let’s hope that dramatic changes also come in the way alcohol is promoted and encouraged by today’s mainstream media.
Written by: Ginger Vieira