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Using alcohol, hormones doubles breast cancer risk

Published Sep. 4, 2005

Women who drink alcohol and take hormones are at almost double the risk of breast cancer, researchers with a large ongoing study say.

Previous studies have shown women who have more than a drink a day raise their risk of breast cancer, and that hormone replacement therapy increases the cancer risk.

The Nurses' Health Study assessed the risk of the factors combined. Researchers said the good news is alcohol and estrogen together do not greatly magnify the danger through interaction. Some scientists were concerned that might be the case.

Instead, what they found is a postmenopausal woman who has a lifetime breast cancer risk of 4 percent could increase the risk to 8 percent if she drinks and takes hormones.

"The public health message is that the two will substantially increase your risk of breast cancer and you might want to be particularly vigilant about having both of these risk factors," said Dr. JoAnn Manson of Brigham and Women's Hospital, study co-author.

The research, published in today's Annals of Internal Medicine, was based on 44,187 participants in the Nurses' Health Study from 1976-96 and tracked more than 120,000 female nurses for a variety of research studies.

The increased risk is "not big enough to say it'll kill you if you drink," said Dr. Norman Lasser of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, who is not affiliated with the Nurses' Health Study.

Study co-author Wendy Chen of Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said it's not necessary to stop drinking. For those women who take hormones, a good compromise would be to consume no more than one drink a day, she said. That way, women can get the cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol use while eliminating the increased breast-cancer risk.

New test for group B streptococcus approved

WASHINGTON _ Hospitals will soon be able to offer women in premature labor or who missed prenatal care a crucial test that might help protect hundreds of babies from a potentially deadly childbirth infection.

Obstetricians test women for group B streptococcus, a bacterium that can be fatal or brain-damaging if passed to infants inside the birth canal, two to four weeks before their due date. Those who are infected can be given powerful antibiotics during labor that protect many of their newborns.

That test needs up to 48 hours for results and does not work once women are in labor. Monday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the IDI-Strep B test, which can detect the infection once labor has begun and provides results in just one hour. That's often enough time to start antibiotics.

Stem cells found to keep diabetic mice alive

WASHINGTON _ In a possible step toward a new treatment for diabetics, embryonic stem cells were used to produce insulin and keep diabetic mice alive.

Researchers cautioned the technique was not ready for testing in humans.

The researchers at Stanford University nurtured mouse embryonic stem cells until they developed into a tissue that made insulin. Then they put the tissue into diabetic mice and showed that the animals were sustained with the insulin produced by the tissue graft.

Dr. Robert Goldstein, chief scientific officer for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, said the Stanford finding is "a significant advance" in diabetes research but will have no immediate human application.