Alcohol Increases Risk For Breast Cancer

Researchers found that just 1 drink per day made a 12% increase in the risk of developing breast cancer and two drinks a day increased one's risk to 24%. (Photo by Elisa Maser)

There is a definite link between drinking and breast cancer. Even just that one glass of wine with your evening meal has been shown to pose an increased risk. Here we look at how one of the major breast cancer risk factors can be easily prevented and why it’s so important.

What is the Link Between Breast Cancer and Alcohol?

Researchers are still investigating reasons for the link between alcohol and breast cancer:

  • It could be that consistent alcohol intake acts as a catalyst, increasing the levels of estrogen in a woman’s body which is a known risk factor for breast cancer.
  • Alcohol is a carcinogen (a cancer-causing substance) in its own right.
  • There are also known to be correlations between alcohol and other risk factors for breast cancer such as obesity, smoking and being post-menopause. According to one study, these additional risk factors could affect how susceptible a woman is to the effects of alcohol, or vice versa.

But we don’t yet understand for sure why certain women who drink may be more susceptible to breast cancer than others or exactly how the physical process occurs where the alcohol triggers the growth and spread of cancer.

Alcohol & Breast Cancer Statistics

A number of research investigations worldwide have produced breast cancer statistics where alcohol is a contributing factor. Many of these studies involved large test groups over long periods of time so have been held as highly credible by leading cancer research organizations:

  • One large 2009 British survey by the University of Oxford showed that breast cancer was greatly affected by drinking. Instances of all types of cancer were found to increase when women drank even low to moderate amounts, but breast cancer rose by a shocking “11 cases per 1,000 to age 75 with every additional drink.” (Source)
  • The famous Million Women Study (supported by Cancer Research UK) followed 1.3 million middle-aged women attending UK breast cancer screening clinics from 1996-2001. One quarter of the women didn’t drink at all; of those that did, the average amount was one drink per day. Over the following 7 years, researchers found just 1 drink per day made a 12% increase in the risk of developing breast cancer. This seemingly doubled with each additional daily drink. For instance, a woman who consistently drank 2 alcoholic drinks per day would be likely to have a 24% risk of developing breast cancer. (Source)
  • The 2008 AACR meeting heard data from the Western New York Exposure and the Breast Cancer Study. This study also confirmed increased breast cancer risk with even moderately increased drinking, but specifically amongst post-menopausal women with specific gene variations. This is particularly interesting for considerations into which drinkers are most at risk from breast cancer. (Source)

The Truth About Wine and Breast Cancer

It has been rumored that red wine is a “safe” alcohol for breast cancer risk and that it can even help prevent breast cancer or have other health benefits (such as protecting against heart disease) if consumed in moderation. Many studies, however, including the Million Women study, have shown absolutely no difference in increased breast cancer risk for women who drank wine exclusively to those who drank other forms of alcohol. (Source)

In fact, the research discussed below of women participating in the Life After Cancer Epidemiology study, found that—more than other alcoholic beverages—wine has a stronger correlation to breast cancer recurrence and mortality rates.

Alcohol and Breast Cancer Recurrence

An 8 year study of 1900 women also found a 30% higher rate of recurrence in women who drink moderately and have already had breast cancer. (Source)

The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology on August 30 2010, found that the threshold of 3 or 4 drinks per week was enough to increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence. 1897 women diagnosed with invasive early-stage breast cancer and participating in the Life After Cancer Epidemiology study were monitored through 1997-2000, noting which women drank alcohol and later following up who had seen a recurrence of breast cancer and, ultimately, died from the disease. The researchers concluded that there was a high possibility of correlation between alcohol and breast cancer recurrence, where 6g or more of alcohol per day (or 2 glasses of wine per week) were consumed regularly (Source)

Breast Cancer Prevention

The agreement between top researchers is so strong that even moderate levels of alcohol could significantly influence your risk of developing breast cancer, leading breast cancer organizations worldwide are now making important recommendations.

According to the American Cancer Society, “drinking alcohol in moderation is key to reducing the risk of alcohol-related cancers. The more someone drinks, the higher their risk of developing some kinds of cancer.”

The AICR (American Institute for Cancer Research) states, “The evidence on cancer justifies a recommendation not to drink alcoholic drinks.” The institute even recommends giving up alcohol completely.

Although statistics do not yet prove definitively that alcohol causes breast cancer, there is such a high level of occurrence in so many different research studies involving large numbers of women that there is certainly enough to base precautionary recommendations on. The fact of the matter is that drinking alcohol is a breast cancer risk factor which is completely avoidable.