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Press Releases: National

December 10, 2009

Alcohol Consumption May Increase Breast Cancer Recurrence Risk

Study Highlights

  • The study followed 1,897 breast cancer survivors of early-stage invasive breast cancer and compared breast cancer recurrence in women who drank with the breast cancer survivors who did not drink.
  • While previous research has shown that consumption of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, there have been limited studies about alcohol’s role in patient prognosis and survival among those already diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • This study found that increased risk of recurrence was greater among postmenopausal and overweight or obese women, regardless of the type of alcohol.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages (at least three to four drinks per week, no matter the type of alcohol) is associated with a 30 percent increased risk of breast cancer recurrence, according to a new Kaiser Permanente study. Post-menopausal or overweight women may be most susceptible to the effects of alcohol on recurrence, according to the researchers.

Detailed results of this study will be presented Dec. 9–13 at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center — American Association for Cancer Research San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium by Marilyn L. Kwan, PhD, staff scientist in the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.

“Women previously diagnosed with breast cancer should consider limiting their consumption of alcohol to less than three drinks per week, especially women who are postmenopausal and overweight or obese,” Kwan said

While previous research has shown that consumption of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, there have been limited studies about alcohol’s role in patient prognosis and survival among those already diagnosed with breast cancer.


Kwan and her colleagues examined the effects of alcohol on cancer recurrence and mortality in the Life After Cancer Epidemiology Study, a prospective cohort study of 1,897 breast cancer survivors diagnosed with early-stage invasive breast cancer between 1997 and 2000. The researchers recruited participants from the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Cancer Registry and compared breast cancer recurrence in women previously diagnosed with breast cancer who drank with a reference group of women previously diagnosed with breast cancer who did not drink.

Kaiser Permanente Division of Research

Researchers used a questionnaire to document information on wine, beer and liquor consumption over the past year. Each year, participants also completed information on health outcomes, including recurrence of breast cancer, which was then verified by their medical records.

After eight years of follow-up, Kwan and colleagues found 349 breast cancer recurrences and 332 deaths from cancer and other causes. Among drinkers (50 percent of the study population), wine was the most popular choice of alcohol (90 percent), followed by liquor (43 percent), then beer (36 percent).

The increased risk of recurrence appeared to be greater among participants who were postmenopausal and overweight or obese, and was present regardless of type of alcohol. Alcohol consumption was not associated with overall mortality.

“These results can help women make more informed decisions about lifestyle choices after a diagnosis of breast cancer,” Kwan said. She added that these findings should be confirmed with more research because few studies have addressed the influence of alcohol on breast cancer prognosis, and the increased risk of recurrence was observed in only some subgroups.

Additional researchers on the study include Erin Weltzien, Emily Tam, Adrienne Castillo, Lawrence Kushi and Bette Caan, all with the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research; and Carol Sweeney, with the division of clinical epidemiology and department of internal medicine at the University of Utah. Funding for the study was provided by the National Cancer Institute.

About the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research
The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes, and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and the society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well-being and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, DOR’s 400-plus staff is working on more than 250 epidemiological and health services research projects.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: www.kp.org/newscenter.