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Doc: Abstain or moderate drink after cancer diagnosis

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: I recently was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I have been reading articles saying that drinking moderately is not a good idea. I have always been a very moderate drinker, averaging five drinks per week. Does my diagnosis of breast cancer mean I must give it up altogether? None of my doctors has told me to stop drinking, so that makes me wonder about the bottom line of these articles. What is your opinion?


Dear J.: There is consistent evidence that consumption of even moderate amounts of alcohol increases risk of breast cancer. However, the absolute risk is modest, about 1.5 percent increase in risk between moderate drinkers and nondrinkers. Among women with diagnosed breast cancer, one recent study suggested that drinking more than three or four alcoholic drinks weekly may increase the risk of recurrence, particularly in older or heavier women. Again, the magnitude of the difference was not large, with about 2 percent increased risk of recurrence in moderate drinkers, compared with women who do not drink.

The lowest risk of breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence is among nondrinkers. It’s your choice, but if you do decide to drink, I would recommend having no more than three drinks per week.

Dear Dr. Roach: I’m 48 years old. My menstrual cycles started at age 12 — always heavy, and lasting seven days, with mild cramps before bleeding started. In the past several cycles, it has been less heavy and fewer days, but I find there are no cramps before my period, but mild cramps a few days after the cycle. Is this unusual?


Dear A.: It is not at all unusual for women to notice menstrual period changes as they approach menopause, which happens in most around age 51. The most common change I see is that the cycle length — say, 30 days — starts to get longer and longer. The amount of bleeding often diminishes, but that isn’t always the case. Cramps are highly variable, with some noticing them getting worse temporarily, but most getting better.

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