Moderate alcohol causes breast cancer?

Fellas, if you ever want to have a relaxed drink with your wife or sweetheart again, you’ll need to put a stake through the heart of this junk science.

A new study by Harvard researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that moderate alcohol consumption (3-6 drinks per week) increases the risk of breast cancer by 20 percent — i.e., from 2.8% to 3.5% over a 10-year period.

This study is entirely unreliable for the simple fact that the researchers have no idea how much alcohol any of the women actually consumed.

It is another from that perpetual junk science machine known as the Nurses Health Study. Ever since the mid-1970s, Harvard researchers have surveyed 121,700 registered nurses on their dietary and health habits every two years.

The data is self-reported, not validated and, hence unreliable. This is especially in evidence with its alcohol consumption data.

The survey questionnaire asks for daily, weekly and monthly alcohol consumption in terms of number of cans/bottles of beer, glasses of wine and drinks of liquor.

Even if someone could remember precisely how many cans, bottles, glasses and drinks they consumed, the outstanding question would still be the amount of alcohol in all those beverages.

Beer, wine and liquor all have varying percentages of alcohol and people consider different volumes as one drink. And the more one drinks the less reliable a recordkeeper one is. Survey respondents may also tend to underreport drinking for fear of social stigma.

Considering that the study result is a weak association — i.e., in the statistical noise range — the unreliability of the alcohol consumption data makes this study another for the circular file.

The researchers also acknowledge that they have no idea what the biological explanation for alcohol-cauing breast cancer might be. They hypothesize hormone changes, but they really don’t know anything with anything approaching certainty.

Even the accompanying JAMA commentary merely concludes that more research in a broader context of all-cause mortality is needed. Moderate alcohol consumption, after all, may also have beneficial health effects that might be lost by cutting back.

But none of this will stop junk scientists Walter Willet, Graham Colditz et al. from using this dog to scare women.

Read the JAMA study.

Read the JAMA commentary.

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13 responses to “Moderate alcohol causes breast cancer?

  1. I believe this study goes hand-in-hand with the “moderate” intelligence of Harvard researchers…

  2. The power of the denominator can’t be overestimated. Given 120,000 of anything and you can show that nearly any change is statistically significant. As in, were my town (of 100,000) to have just one more murder this year the rate would double and would we be in the middle of a homicidal rampage. If so, killer zombies would be a welcomed alternative.

  3. “Everything gives you cancer, everything gives you cancer, there’s no cure, there’s no answer”… Joe Jackson, I think.

    When I was a kid, scientists were injecting large amounts of various things into rats. They came up with a whole list of stuff that gives you cancer, among them peanut butter, mustard, saccarin, the list goes on. My dad took each one seriously, and removed the item from our diets. I fervently wished liver and broccoli were on that list…

  4. How much taxpayer money is wasted on this nonsense? We are in the century of people studying everything to find a reason to leave the planet.

  5. Susan Salisbury

    The problem with self reporting is that people lie. Especially about how much they drink. Further, they lie about smoking and a whole lot of other stuff. They are not lying to deceive the researchers so much as lying to deceive themselves. The other problem, of course, is that correlation is not causation but with a data set all ready and not having to go out and get new data, lazy researchers just manipulate numbers. No new learning actually comes out of it. I imagine if you asked them their favorite color, you could find a correlation between that and some disease.

  6. Nurses?? Wouldn’t that group be more likely to have had abortions and used birth control pills also known as hormone supplements?? Wonder what other behaviours would have raised their chances of having a tumor or cancer that would be much more on point than alcohol consumption?

  7. There is a good book about the long, long list of things that have been reported to cause cancer”The Apocalyptics” has a complex title page. The main title is followed by “Cancer and the Big Lie”, “by Edith Efron”, and “How Environmental Politics Controls What We Know About Cancer”. That is a brief and fair summary of the book.

  8. Margo Marbut Train

    Sorry — I’m a JunkScience follower, but information about the alcohol/breast cancer link is not new and it’s not bunk.
    This may be a new study but I’ve known about alcohol as a risk factor for 15 years from a leading breast cancer specialist. While the amount of alcohol is not exact because of the reason’s stated — the recommendation is two drinks a week max — especially for high-risk individuals.

  9. About 20 years ago I was offered the opportunity to become a member of a Harvard corollary, Physicians Health Study, reporting much of the same type of data: alcohol consumption, sleep, exercise, and supplements. It looked to me like the “survey” instrument was just going to take up a lot of my time, and give some academics something to write about, called “science”. I abstained from enrollment. In view of the nurses’ group report, I now anticipate an article about alcohol consumption, and some doubling of a deleterious effect on the lives of physicians, in about the 1% to 1.5% range.

  10. Actually, the public did not pay for this junk science. Pharma did. They paid for all the junk science about second hand smoke, to justify smoking bans in bars, (to get people onto the nicotine replacement products of Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer, and to justify getting these products, which don’t work onto Medicare payout) the junk science on obesity, to create the “war” on sugar, (that started the day that J&J bought Splenda, AND they already own the most popular bariatric procedure, which they are trying to justify getting that on Medicare payout) and now alcohol. (Pfizer is trying to get that approved in for “alcohol rehabilittion”. These two pharmas, with their grant funded lobbyists ($99,000,000) at the Cancer Society and the Heart and Lung Associations, will say or do anything and fund any science, (as long as they know in advance the junk will come out as predirected) to get their bottom line enhanced.

  11. As a former engineer, I would never be able to use the statistics quoted in the article, 2.8% increase to 3.5% over a 122,000 sampling, to justify a start of any project. The percentages are insignificant, and the differences could result from unknowns or errors. Was it the alcohol or the beer or wine, how much alcohol in any drink, was there food eaten with the drinks, high or low fat, high protein or carbohydrate? How much stress involved? My management would have laughed me right out the door if I presented a similar study to get funding for a project.

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