A new US study found that both red and white wine have the same effect on breast cancer risk, that is they increase the risk by the same amount, which is contrary to studies on heart disease and prostate cancer that suggest red wine may have beneficial effects on disease risk compared to white wine.

The study was the work of lead author Dr Polly Newcomb, head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle, Washington, and colleagues from other research centers, and is published online in the March issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

Newcomb said in a press statement that she and her colleagues were interested in finding out what effect red wine might have on breast cancer risk, particularly since it has been singled out in other studies as being beneficial, such as on risk of heart disease and prostate cancer.

“The general evidence is that alcohol consumption overall increases breast-cancer risk, but the other studies made us wonder whether red wine might in fact have some positive value,” explained Newcomb.

For the study the researchers interviewed 6,327 women who had breast cancer and 7,558 age-matched controls who did not. All the participants were from Wisconsin, Massachusetts and New Hampshire and aged from 20 to 69.

They asked them how often they drank alcohol (red wine, white wine, spirits/liquor, and beer) and other questions relevant to breast cancer risk, including how old they were when/if they first became pregnant, whether there was any family history of breast cancer, and whether they had used hormonal replacement therapy (HRT).

The frequency of alcohol consumption in both the breast cancer and the control group was the same, and the proportion of women consuming red and white wine was also the same in both groups.

The results showed there was no difference between red and white wine with respect to risk of having breast cancer.

The researchers found that women who had 14 or more drinks a week, regardless of type (red or white wine, spirits/liquor or beer) were 24 per cent more likely to have breast cancer compared with women who did not drink alcohol at all.

Newcomb said that neither red nor white wine appeared to have any benefits.

“If a woman drinks, she should do so in moderation — no more than one drink a day,” she said.

“And if a woman chooses red wine, she should do so because she likes the taste, not because she thinks it may reduce her risk of breast cancer,” added Newcomb.

This is not the first study to find that moderate alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk for women. For example, a large UK study published last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that even moderate amounts of alcohol could increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer or other cancers by 13 per cent (click here for more information).

The National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, sponsored the research.

“No Difference Between Red Wine or White Wine Consumption and Breast Cancer Risk.”
Polly A. Newcomb, Hazel B. Nichols, Jeannette M. Beasley, Kathleen Egan, Linda Titus-Ernstoff, John M. Hampton, and Amy Trentham-Dietz.
Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, March 2009 18: 1007-1010.

Click here for article (full text only available, subscription required).

Sources: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD