New research out of Washington University School of Medicine shows, for the first time, the link between breast cancer risk and drinking at a young age, prior to first full-term pregnancy. The results are quite sobering as millions of young women consume alcohol as part of ‘growing up’ and this research adds to the list of destructive actions humans regularly take. Simply put, the more alcohol a woman drinks before her first full term pregnancy, the greater the risk of breast cancer.
“More and more heavy drinking is occurring on college campuses and during adolescence, and not enough people are considering future risk. But, according to our research, the lesson is clear: 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 percent,” said co-author Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH.
The new study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Interestingly, researchers also determined that for every bottle of beer, glass of wine or shot of liquor consumed daily, a young woman will increase her risk of proliferate benign breast disease by 15 percent. While these lesions are noncancerous, their presence increases breast cancer risk by as much as 500 percent.
“Parents should educate their daughters about the link between drinking and risk of breast cancer and breast disease,” she said. “That’s very important because this time period is very critical.” Ying Liu, MD, PhD.
Researchers, Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH & Ying Liu, MD, PhD spearheaded the study by reviewing the health histories of 91,005 mothers enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II from 1989 to 2009. It is important to note that Colditz and Liu did not consider the effects of adolescent and early adulthood drinking on women who did not yet have a full-term pregnancy due to the fact that not enough were represented among those studied. What this means is that we do not yet know what impact alcohol has on women who choose not get to pregnant but drank throughout their adolescence and early adulthood.
One key reason why breast tissue is specifically susceptible to cancer-causing substances like alcohol is that they undergo rapid proliferation during adolescence and slightly thereafter. What adds to the risk is the lengthening time period between the average age of a girl’s first menstrual cycle and the average age of a woman’s first full-term pregnancy. According to Colditz, young women should drink much less than a drink per day on average in order to reduce their risk of breast cancer.
One thing I find interesting is how much alcohol is pushed onto young people through pop culture. While many would not admit this, most young people have this idea that it is cool to drink -and in large quantities. This is evident throughout young culture and it doesn’t seem to be changing. From a young age we seem to be sold heavily on products that have very little benefit to health while healthy products and lifestyle is completely neglected. Although there appears to be an increasing awareness in young people who are seeing through the beliefs and programs of what we “should” be doing when we are young, many still snap themselves tightly into that market with little thoughts of leaving.
It is difficult to blame young people as the tightening structures and pressures in life seem to push the mental state into wanting to escape. Alcohol and mind altering substances are attractive at that point. When you couple this with peer pressure and what identity it can create, it becomes a tough battle. Young people are not taught or encouraged to understand themselves through meditation, conversation or reflective writing, they are instead left alone to figure things out for themselves and since their lives have a lot going on, feeling down about anything easily leads to feeling the need to escape often. If my word means anything here and a young person reads this, my hope is simply that they open themselves up to the idea that there is more to life than just doing what everyone else does or what is expected of you. My entire life I played that role and while it had some tough moments, for the most part it is incredibly expansive and chill. Be who YOU are, not who you THINK you need to be.
Finally, why is alcohol legal? Yet a substance like cannabis is not? I don’t support the over use, nor daily or weekly use of either substance. I believe people should have the ability to do what they choose, but for me I feel any daily need usually is linked to some underlying reason. If it’s relaxation, why are we unable to relax without it? Cannabis use is frowned upon heavily. A parent is more fearful to find out their child smoked cannabis than if they got drunk, why is this? While it may be because cannabis is illegal, I think we have been conditioned to accept alcohol as being okay to consume regularly while we have not with cannabis. To me the reasons for this are quite clear especially given the results of this study. Alcohol consumption is destructive and leads to many issues, cannabis can be destructive in some ways but for the most part is not and never has been linked to destruction of health. So what is really going on here?