While scientists struggle to find common ground on alcohol consumption and its relationship to breast cancer, moderate wine drinkers may find comfort in a new study that links the beverage to lower death rates among female non-Hodgkin's lymphoma sufferers.
According to an unpublished epidemiology study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting, held April 18—22 in Denver, those stricken with the ailment who drank wine regularly for 25 years before diagnosis enjoyed better survival rates five years after being diagnosed compared to nondrinkers. Wine drinkers were also more likely to be disease-free after five years.
Lead author Xuesong Han said that repeat studies are necessary before making any health recommendations. "This conclusion is controversial, because excessive drinking has a negative social and health impact, and it is difficult to define what is moderate and what is excessive," said Han in a statement. "However, we are continually seeing a link between wine and positive outcomes in many cancers."
This study, conducted at the School of Public Health at Yale University, was the first to examine the link between alcohol-consumption patterns among female patients and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. According to the National Cancer Institute, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma afflicts lymphocytes or white blood cells. The disease can occur at any stage of life and can progress at varying rates. The institute estimates that 66,120 new cases were diagnosed in the United States in 2008, with nearly 20,000 deaths in the same year.
Han and her team examined data on 546 women who had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and found that those who drank wine had a 76 percent five-year survival rate, compared with 68 percent for non-wine drinkers. The wine-drinking survivors were also more likely to be cancer-free after five years—70 percent of those studied who drank wine were disease-free after five years, while 65 percent of non-wine drinkers showed no signs of cancer. Han said this is equal to a 25 percent to 35 percent reduced risk of death.
The women were typically lifetime wine drinkers who responsibly consumed the beverage for at least 25 years prior to getting cancer. Women who showed a preference for beer or spirits did not see an added benefit.
Han told Wine Spectator that since the epidemiological study had an observational design, the researchers found a clear association between wine and lower death rates among the study population, but they don't yet know the exact reason behind the protective effect.
Considering the emerging evidence from cell and animal studies that certain polyphenols such as flavonoids and resveratrol from grapes act as antioxidants, this could play a protective role against tumor initiation and progression, Han said.
"The chemical composition is definitely a possible underlying explanation for the association we observed," she said. "We also could not exclude the possibility that wine drinkers may have a better lifestyle in other aspects, which may work together for their better health."
Han said more research is needed and added that personally, she would like to see if measuring white wine versus red wine shows a different result. She added that the importance of wine should not be overlooked. "I think if you are already in the habit of drinking wine moderately, then don't worry about changing, especially given the established protective effect of moderate drinking and heart disease, and the emerging results of protective effects for certain types of cancer and cognitive functions."
"However, if drinking alcohol could put you on any other risks, for example, if you have liver disease or breast cancer family history, then it's better not to drink any type of alcohol," she said.