Having a cocktail is such fun; let’s blame breast cancer deaths on it.

Goodness knows why alcohol got the blame, but it certainly did. A large study based on nurses’ self-reports was a very significant factor in this story.

Alcohol and Risk of Breast Cancer
Steven A. Narod, MD
JAMA. 2011;306(17):1920-1921. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1589.

In this issue of JAMA, Chen and colleagues1 report findings from the Nurses’ Health Study exploring the relationship between alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. The authors’ principal findings were that the cumulative amount of alcohol a woman consumes during adulthood is the best predictor of her breast cancer risk and that low levels of alcohol consumption (as few as 3 drinks a week) are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Everyone (it seems) at the large, famous and amazingly effective cancer center, MD Anderson, is extremely anti-alcohol.

But that may not be the whole story. From today’s NY Times:

Alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk for breast cancer. But a new study suggests that moderate drinking has little effect on survival after diagnosis, and may reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers, writing online in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, studied 22,890 women with breast cancer, recording information on alcohol intake before diagnosis and, for a subset of 4,881 of them, after diagnosis as well.

After controlling for age, education, stage of cancer, body mass index, smoking and other factors, they found that breast cancer survival was similar in women who drank alcohol after diagnosis and those who did not. But women who drank moderately before diagnosis — three to six drinks a week — were significantly less likely to die of breast cancer and of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, the authors write, is increasingly being recognized as a mortality cause among breast cancer survivors.

There are a lot of questions left unanswered. One is about the difference between risk and death for people not yet diagnosed at age 50.