Alcohol consumption in relation to aberrant DNA methylation in breast tumors

Meng Hua Tao, Catalin Marian, Peter G. Shields, Jing Nie, Susan E. McCann, Amy Millen, Christine Ambrosone, Alan Hutson, Stephen B. Edge, Shiva S. Krishnan, Bin Xie, Janet Winston, Dominica Vito, Marcia Russell, Thomas H. Nochajski, Maurizio Trevisan, Jo L. Freudenheim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The mechanism for the observed association of alcohol consumption breast cancer risk is not known; understanding that mechanism could improve understanding of breast carcinogenesis and optimize prevention strategies. Alcohol may impact breast malignancies or tumor progression by altering DNA methylation. We examined promoter methylation of three genes, the E-cadherin, p16, and retinoic acid-binding receptor-β 2 (RAR-β 2) genes in archived breast tumor tissues from participants in a population-based case-control study. Real time methylation-specific PCR was performed on 803 paraffin-embedded samples, and lifetime alcohol consumption was queried. Unordered polytomous and unconditional logistic regression were used to derive adjusted odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). RAR-β 2 methylation was not associated with drinking. Among premenopausal women, alcohol consumption was also not associated with promoter methylation for E-cadherin and p16 genes. In case-case comparisons of postmenopausal breast cancer, compared with lifetime never drinkers, promoter methylation likelihood was increased for higher alcohol intake for E-cadherin (OR=2.39; 95% CI, 1.15-4.96), in particular for those with estrogen receptor-negative tumors (OR=4.13; 95% CI, 1.16-14.72), and decreased for p16 (OR=0.52; 95% CI, 0.29-0.92). There were indications that the association with p16 was stronger for drinking at younger ages. Methylation was also associated with drinking intensity independent of total consumption for both genes. We found alcohol consumption was associated with DNA methylation in postmenopausal breast tumors, suggesting that the association of alcohol and breast cancer may be related, at least in part, to altered methylation, and may differ by drinking pattern.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-699
Number of pages11
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Alcohol consumption
  • Breast cancer
  • Epidemiology
  • Epigenetics
  • Postmenopause
  • Promoter methylation


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