Teen Drinker? You Have a Higher Breast Cancer Risk

I partied a lot in high school. Like, a lot a lot a lot. Like, every weekend with 40s and bottles of Smirnoff passed around hurriedly in the woods, games of beer pong in basements, fake ID after fake ID after fake ID. I engaged in risky behavior involving alcohol throughout my teens and well into my early twenties. In those days, I was more concerned about getting arrested, getting alcohol poisoning, or getting sexually assaulted than I was about getting breast cancer.

But researchers have found that women who drank in their teens and twenties increased their breast cancer risk by at least one-third. Published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the study reveals that women who drank about two units of alcohol a day in the decade after they began menstruation were 34 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not drink during the same years.

Researchers looked at the history of 91,000 women in the US ages 15 to 40, including their alcohol consumption during four different age periods (15 to 17, 18 to 22, 23-30, and 31 to 40). Apparently, there was a clear correlation between women who drank at younger ages (before their first pregnancies) and higher occurrences of breast cancer.

It's long been known that there is a correlation between drinking and breast cancer, but this is the first study that has found a link between the age you are when you drink and your risk of developing cancer. Professor Paul Pharaoh of the University of Cambridge said:

“What we already know is that in a rather general sense drinking alcohol is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and that the more a woman drinks the greater the risk. What we did not know: whether drinking alcohol at different ages has greater or lesser effects. Of particular interest is the time between puberty (menarche) and first pregnancy, when the breast tissue might be particularly susceptible."

The study revealed that there was an even higher risk, the younger you were when you started drinking, with an even stronger correlation depending on how long you were fertile before you got pregnant. So, if you started menstruating at age 13 and started drinking at age 16, you'd have a higher risk than a woman who started menstruating at 15 and drinking at 21.

Well, reading this study has certainly been a great way to start off a Labor Day bachelorette party weekend with all my friends from high school! I'll let them know we should all step up our breast self-exam game, stat.