The Scary New Reason Why Young Women Need to Watch their Alcohol Intake

Underage drinking increases risk of developing breast cancerLast week I wrote a post about a book that will guide you through the emotions of a cancer diagnosis. The very next day I found out that a good friend has breast cancer. That same morning, before speaking with her, I read a research study that astounded me.  The more alcohol young women drink before motherhood, the greater their risk of future breast cancer.

I don’t have a family history of breast cancer (yet), nor do I have a daughter, and I still found this news important enough to write about this new link between breast cancer and alcohol intake. Here’s why:

Having never liked the smell or taste of beer, I coasted through my younger years without being much of a heavy regular drinker. Yet I did taste my first wine cooler at the age of 13. (It took me about two hours to finish the whole thing.) A friend’s parents were away for the weekend and his older brother was out for the night. About 20 or so of us were at his home. There was beer, wine coolers, cigarettes, whip-its and more. It was the first “real party” our crew of friends ever threw.

I had my first child at the age of 30, so that makes 17 years of potentially increasing my own risk of breast cancer. Given that more and more women are having babies later in life, this just lengthens the amount of time what they could be unknowingly increasing their risk of getting breast cancer.

If a female averages a drink per day between her first period and her first full-term pregnancy, she increases her risk of breast cancer by 13%. So even if a college student drinks only on the weekends, she could easily wind up averaging one drink per day. This also holds true for benign breast cancer, whereas for every one drink consumed daily on average a young woman increases her risk of benign breast disease by 15%, thus increasing her future full-blown breast cancer risk by as much as 500%.

This study out of Washington University School of Medicine is the first time researchers have linked increased risk of breast cancer and alcohol intake between early adolescence and first full-term pregnancy.

According to, about 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Of all women with cancer, more than 25% have breast cancer. And even though a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer doubles if she has a first-degree relative with breast cancer, it is important to also know that about 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history.

We all know that adolescents think they are invincible, especially since we thought the same thing when we were that age. Yet if they might refrain from drinking, or perhaps drink less by knowing this information, shouldn’t we be shouting it from the rooftops?

Click here for some tips on how to talk to your kids about underage drinking.


  1. this terrifies me and yet I will CHOOOOOSE to see it as a launching pad for discussion with a few nieces in my life.

  2. This is really eye opening, and is a bit frightening when you think about all the drinking many young women do in college.

  3. I had no idea…so scary. I don’t really drink too much but I’m going to share this with my cousin who just started college.

  4. This is really go information to know. Thank for sharing it.

  5. Well that’s not good! Actually, I don’t take too much of this scare stuff to heart when it comes to what I can’t undo. I mean, this is interesting, but I want to know WHAT in the alcohol is causing this? Is it at all possible that it’s linked to something that goes hand in hand with the alcohol? (Like sugar, which is really horrible for you.) I don’t doubt at all that too much alcohol is not good for you.

  6. Thanks for writing about such an important topic. The more you know..

  7. Put that on the list of things I wish I’d known in college. I wasn’t a heavy drinker because I’m such a lightweight, but for sure I could have held back more than I did. This is important info. to share with my daughter when she gets older. Thanks for sharing.

  8. These are such sad statistics! Glad I wasn’t a drinker in college or ever… With a family history of breast cancer, I don’t need any other risk factors:(

  9. That’s pretty scary. I have a daughter, and I worry about her and alcohol for other reasons.

  10. It’s a tough age range to work on prevention too because not only are kids challenging everything as they exercise newfound independence, but they feel invincible during those years too. Ugh. Scary connection here!

  11. Jessica, thank you so much for sharing this valuable information. So many young girls think getting wasted is only going to “maybe” hurt their liver and damage their reputation. It never ceases to amaze me all the destruction alcohol abuse can cause. The list is so long and this is one more on it.

  12. That really puts a new spin on the “rites” of passage of drinking that many girls go through in college. Thanks for this info-it will spark many conversations.

  13. First of all – Cancer Sucks. I’ll be thinking of your friend! Second – I had no idea. Good thing I’ve never been much of a drinker – I need to more risks to add to my horrible genetics. :)

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