Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, and a study suggests that breast cancer survivors who consume just a few drinks a week may be more likely to experience a recurrence than nondrinkers.

Researchers from Kaiser Permanente followed 1,897 women who received a diagnosis of early-stage invasive breast cancer from 1997 to 2000, assessing alcohol intake through a self-administered food frequency questionnaire listing 122 foods and beverages.

About half of the women reported drinking alcohol; wine was the most popular choice. After eight years of follow-up, 349 women had had a recurrence of breast cancer, and 332 had died of cancer or other causes. Researchers found that the women who drank three to four standard servings of alcohol a week — the equivalent of three to four glasses of wine — were 34 percent more likely to have experienced a recurrence of their cancer than those who drank very little or not at all, with the risk greater among post-menopausal and overweight women.

“Alcohol has been shown in animal studies to increase circulating levels of estrogen, and increase estrogen metabolism,” which may drive recurrence risk, said the paper’s lead author, Marilyn Kwan, a staff scientist in the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif., who presented the findings at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium last week.

It may be premature to issue clinical recommendations, but she suggested that cutting down on alcohol was “one of the modifiable lifestyle factors that women with breast cancer should consider.”

Written by Roni Caryn Rabin, posted at www.nytimes.com