Rebuttal to newspaper report: ‘Raise a toast to this breast cancer news’

The Journal of Clinical Oncology itself says:

“non-drinkers or individuals who choose not to imbibe should not be encouraged otherwise,”

Also it says: “Alcohol intake is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.” Now is that really any grounds to “Raise a toast”?

This report contradicts the original source in the journal. The report “Raise a toast to this breast cancer news” was from 23 April 2013 in the Sunshine Coast Daily [third-hand] and repeated in many Australian newspapers. (Perhaps some other [second-hand] report could have been worded more clearly – not to be too severe on this third-hand reporter.) Hopefully it will not discourage women from heeding a doctor’s advice to give up alcohol. Otherwise women may eventually regret harming themselves while they had supposed it was harmless!

Misleading in newspaper:

“A NEW study has found that moderate amounts of alcohol do not appear to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.”

Rebuttal:

The new study mainly focused on alcohol’s association with SURVIVING breast cancer – not on the actual risk of breast cancer as such. (It also mentions death from other causes.)

Possible explanation: People may abstain because they are sick—they are not sick because they abstain.

Why is someone more likely to die from breast cancer after its diagnosis? The journal acknowledges “causality cannot be assigned” – i.e. ASSOCIATION with SURVIVING breast cancer is different than claiming alcohol “CAUSES” survival from it. I consider a possible explanation: this cause of death may be more likely for a woman who drank when younger, but has given it up before her breast cancer diagnosis. Now she may be lumped into the “non-drinker” category despite the major damage already done – arguably by alcohol. Another woman is diagnosed with a less aggressive breast cancer. Statistically she was already less likely to die from it (yet has some danger of it). Incidentally, she is (unwisely) less inclined to quit all drinking after diagnosis, despite a doctor’s advice. Overlooking such factors may lead to a wrong impression in survival statistics for “drinkers” and “non-drinkers”.

Misleading in newspaper:

The third-hand report could give unwary readers an EXTREMELY WRONG impression: perhaps even “excess alcohol consumption” is supposedly no longer considered “a risk factor for the disease” itself, as had been stated by “previous research.” The report says: “Alcohol consumption of any amount, before diagnosis of breast cancer, was found to have no association with an increased risk of dying from breast cancer, reported Medical News Today.” [third-hand use of a second-hand MNT report “Breast Cancer Survival Not Affected By Alcohol Consumption”, 10 Apr 2013]

Rebuttal:

Wasn’t this supposed to say “AFTER diagnosis” of breast cancer rather than before it?

Was this really supposed to say “ANY AMOUNT?” beyond the so-called “moderate amounts” mentioned in the first line?

This journal merely claims “up to one drink per day in women” is associated with a some apparent cardiovascular benefit, which might be interpreted as offsetting some of the concern of mortality following breast cancer diagnosis. Nevertheless, it also says, “There are important caveats to such an interpretation … alcohol intake may be associated with accidental and violent death, as well as chronic health conditions and psychosocial problems.”

Importantly, the same Journal acknowledges at the beginning of this new study: “Alcohol intake is associated with increased risk of breast cancer.” Now is that really any grounds to “Raise a toast”?

Indeed the existing studies are not discredited. They already demonstrated that drinking – even drinking small amounts of alcohol – is associated with an increased diagnosis of breast cancer itself (whether or not this association parallels heart disease diagnosis).

Does alcohol really help the heart anyway?

Other researchers (from Brazil) found that in certain populations, drinking is not even statistically associated with lower coronary heart disease. They questioned ‘whether the cardioprotective effect of alcohol is real or may be confounded by lifestyle characteristics of drinkers.’

See also: http://www.nodrinking.com/alcohol-heart-benefits-debunked/

Potentially dangerous reporting: like the results of downplaying smoking in 1960s?

“In May 1964, the AMA stated that it was not opposed to smoking and tobacco, and published a brochure titled: “Smoking: Facts You Should Know,” warning of some dangers from smoking, but the conclusion was, ‘smoke if you feel you should, but be moderate.’ This advice has resulted in the illnesses and deaths of untold millions of Americans. Actually, the dangers from smoking were known decades ago…”

http://www.jrussellshealth.org/alcohol.html

It gets worse: fourth-hand report?

Another report [apparently fourth-hand] could give unwary readers a VERY EXTREMELY WRONG impression: “Medical News revealed today [sic] that there is no association between alcohol consumption of any amount with risks of being diagnosed with breast cancer.”

Top News, 23 April, “Moderate Amount of Alcohol May not Cause Breast Cancer”.

Other misleading headlines

“Raise a toast to this breast cancer news.” is not the only media report with a bad headline on breast cancer.

Another story with another misleading headline: “Alcohol may improve breast cancer survival”. (ABC 17 News, 9 April 2013) It is one thing for this media report to claim [one drink of] alcohol “may not have any effect on whether you survive the disease.” But it is something else for its main headline to claim alcohol may even increase survival from breast cancer! The headline seems to encourage non-drinkers to start – but the journal says this should not be encouraged!

References

‘To Your Health: How Does the Latest Research on Alcohol and Breast Cancer Inform Clinical Practice?’ 8 April 2013, Journal of Clinical Oncology, http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2013.49.0466

‘Alcohol Consumption Before and After Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Associations With Survival From Breast Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, and Other Causes’ 8 April 2013, Journal of Clinical Oncology, http://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2012.46.5765.abstract

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