Many experts define moderate drinking for women as no more than one serving of alcohol (1.5 ounces of liquor, four ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer per day. However, a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggests that, for breast cancer survivors, even that moderate level of drinking may be too much.

Researchers followed 1,897 early-stage breast cancer patients for an average of 74 years, tracking cancer recurrences and deaths.

Findings: Compared with patients who did not drink alcohol, those who consumed at least three to four drinks per week (an average of roughly one-half drink per day or more) were 35% more likely to experience a breast cancer recurrence...and 51% more likely to die of the disease. Recurrence risk was highest among women who were postmenopausal, overweight or obese.

Possible reason: Alcohol increases estrogen levels, as does obesity, and excess estrogen is associated with breast cancer.

However: Among study participants, alcohol was not associated with any increased risk of dying from causes other than breast cancer—in fact, this risk may have been slightly lower among drinkers, possibly due to alcohol's protective effects on cardiovascular health.

Bottom line: It is prudent for breast cancer patients to talk with their doctors about the risks and benefits of consuming alcohol

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