Background: Several recent studies suggest that adequate dietary folate may attenuate the risk of breast cancer associated with intake of alcohol. We examined whether the putative benefit extends to women with a family history (FH) of breast cancer using a cohort of 33,552 postmenopausal women aged 55-69 years in 1986.
Method: Folate and alcohol intake was estimated from a food frequency questionnaire completed at baseline. Folate was categorized as upper 50th, 31st-50th, 11th-30th, and <10th percentiles. Alcohol use was initially classified into three levels; never drinkers, less than the median and greater than the median. Subsequent models collapsed levels of intake to any versus none. Occurrence of breast cancer was determined through linkage to the Iowa SEER registry. Multivariate-adjusted relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated through Cox proportional hazards regression, stratified on FH using non-drinkers with high folate and no FH as the referent group.
Results: Through 14 years, 1823 incident cases were identified, 308 among FH+ women. Among FH- women, low folate was not a risk factor among non-drinkers (RR = 0.96, CI = 0.73-1.26), but was among drinkers (RR = 1.40, CI = 1.05-1.86). Drinkers with high folate were not at elevated risk (RR = 1.03, CI = 0.89-1.19). Among FH+ women, low folate was a risk factor among drinkers (RR = 2.21, CI = 1.43-3.41) and non-drinkers (RR = 2.39, CI = 1.36-4.20). Further, drinkers with high folate remained at increased risk (RR = 1.67, CI= 1.30-2.14). However, FH+ women with high folate who did not drink alcohol had no elevated risk.
Conclusion: These results suggest that folate may attenuate the risks of postmenopausal breast cancer associated with family history, but only if alcohol use is avoided or minimized.