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Alcohol and Breast Cancer: Is Wine Really Bad for Women?

The risk may not be as great as you think

But study author Graham Colditz, M.D., with the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University in St. Louis, says that alcohol is linked to more than just breast cancer. "In smokers, it also increases the risk of head and neck cancer. For all women, we know from studies around the world that alcohol increases the risk of liver cancer and colon cancer," Colditz says.

As a cardiologist — and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association — Goldberg sees things a little differently.

A moderate amount of alcohol — no more than a drink a day — can have cardiovascular benefits for the heart. And heart disease kills many more women than breast cancer.

Among women, one in 30 deaths is from breast cancer, while one in three is from heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Government data show that each year about 88,000 women ages 45 to 64 have a heart attack, and half of them will die within eight years.

Goldberg urges women to discuss their personal risk factors, for both heart disease and breast cancer, with their doctor. "We're not going to write a prescription for people to start drinking. Just having a drink a day is not going to reduce the risk of heart attack — it's a multi-risk factor disease, just like breast cancer," she says.

Also, women should consider the other things they can do to reduce their risk factors, "like physical activity — that's good for both breast cancer and heart-disease prevention — and stopping smoking and getting your cholesterol in check," Goldberg says.

Do all that and maybe you can celebrate with a nice glass of chardonnay.

Also of interest: How to customize your mammogram. >>

Candy Sagon writes about health and nutrition for the Bulletin.

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