Most of us know that drinking alcohol can be bad for our health. One too many bevvies and you might end up with high blood pressure or liver disease. But how many of us know that alcohol consumption increases the risk of breast cancer?

A 2015 study asked 206 women, who were either having a breast screening mammogram or were at a clinic having possible breast cancer symptoms checked out. Less than a quarter knew that alcohol could increase their breast cancer risk. Even those women who did know were not sure how much alcohol was in a glass of wine and a pint of beer (1).

Yet alcohol consumption has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer for some time. Figures released in 2010 suggest that around 6% of breast cancer cases are attributable to the consumption of alcohol (2) Alcohol metabolism produces acetaldehyde which can induce DNA damage associated with cancers (3). Alcohol intake is also associated with increased concentrations of circulating oestrogens in the body (4) which is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

What’s the risk?

Drinking alcohol does not mean you will automatically get breast cancer, it does mean your risk of developing it will be increased. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your chance of developing breast cancer at some point in your life.

The Million Women Study, a study of 1.3 million women run by the University of Oxford, estimated that each additional alcoholic drink regularly consumed per day was associated with 11 additional breast cancers per 1000 women up to age 75 (5).

Will avoiding alcohol prevent me from getting breast cancer?

Drinking less alcohol will lower your risk of getting breast cancer, but even women who never drink any alcohol are still at risk of getting the disease. There are also lots of other risk factors which have an impact on our chances of getting breast cancer, some of which (like our age) are beyond our control.

How can I reduce the amount of alcohol I drink?

You can find alternatives such as mocktails and alcohol-free beer and wine, and getting into the habit of not drinking during the week. But don’t make up for it at the weekend by binge drinking. Over a short period of time, you’ll find your cravings and capacity for drinking will diminish.

 

References:

(1) Copson et al. ‘Knowledge of modifiable risk factors for breast cancer in women attending NHS breast symptomatic clinics and breast screening mammography’. https://abstracts.ncri.org.uk/abstract/knowledge-of-modifiable-risk-factors-for-breast-cancer-in-women-attending-nhs-breast-symptomatic-clinics-and-breast-screening-mammography-2/

(2) Parkin, D., Boyd, L., (2010). ‘The Fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010’ British Journal of Cancer (2011) 105, S77-s81

(3) https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA72/AA72.htm

(4) https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-4/299-307.htm

(5) Allen, N.E., Beral, V., Casabonne, D., Kan, S.W., Reeves, G.K., Brown, A. and Green, J., 2009. Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 101(5), pp.296-305. https://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/101/5/296.short


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