YOUNG women who drink alcohol before their first pregnancy face a 35 per cent higher risk of breast cancer, new research suggests.
Findings of the Cancer Council Victoria study have led to calls for women to reduce their alcohol consumption before having children, as well as a push for further research into the links between booze and breast cancer.
The examination of 13,630 Victorian women found drinking between the age of 15 and the first pregnancy raised the chance of breast cancer, but also that alcohol in the years after a first child did not increase the rate of breast cancer above those who abstained.
Strong links between alcohol and breast cancer have long been known.
But study supervisor Professor Dallas English said the latest findings indicated breast tissue was more susceptible during its development in adolescence, which could be a reason for the increase in risk.
“Drinking alcohol in adolescence and before your first pregnancy may have a greater impact on breast cancer than consumption later in life.
“It changes the risk from roughly one in nine to one in seven,” Prof English said.
“Breast cancer is one of our major cancers, and not drinking alcohol during adolescence and the early 20s is one potential way of reducing that risk.”
The research, published today in the international journal Cancer Causes and Control to coincide with Pink Ribbon Day, compared early-life alcohol consumption of women from the Victorian study with the rates of those who went on to develop cancer in later life.
Prof English said the findings should remind women to be mindful of alcohol intake during early adulthood.
But he warned further studies were needed to corroborate the results before stronger action could be suggested.
“Any alcohol intake before the first pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer,” researchers found. “Limiting alcohol intake before the first pregnancy might reduce that risk.”
Cancer Council Victoria chief Todd Harper said cutting alcohol consumption was a way for all people to reduce their risk of various cancers.
“Alcohol consumption is linked with 3200 cases of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, bowel and female breast in Australia each year,” he said.
More information at cancervic.org.au/avoid-alcohol