Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer
Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer in women and heavy drinking may increase the risk in men (1). Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may increase the risk of breast cancer in daughters (2). In the UK it is estimated that 8% (around 4,400) of female breast cancer cases are linked to alcohol consumption (3, 4).
Does the type of alcoholic drink matter?
Any type of alcoholic drink increases the risk (5). All alcoholic drinks – be they beer, wine or spirits – contain ethanol, which is what causes harm. Different drinks contain different amounts of alcohol.
Type of drink
|Alcohol by volume||Volume of drink||Alcohol
|Single-shot of spirits||40%||25ml||8g||1 unit|
|Pint of beer||4%||568ml||18.4g||2.3 units|
|A small bottle of beer||5%||330ml||13.6g||1.7 units|
|A small glass of wine||12%||125ml||12g||1.5 units|
|Standard glass wine||13%||175ml||18.4g||2.3 units|
|Pint of cider||12%||125ml||12g||1.5 units|
How much alcohol increases breast cancer risk?
The more women drink the more breast cancer risk increases (6). Even very light drinking (1 drink/week) increases the risk (7). Binge drinking (more than 6 units or 4 drinks in a short period) may be especially harmful (8). One study found that pre-menopausal women who binge drink have twice the risk of breast cancer compared to non-binge drinkers (9). Some evidence suggests that drinking alcohol in adolescence and before a first pregnancy may increase risk more (10). For men, heavy drinking increases risk. Heavy drinking is twice the UK guidelines of 14 units/week which means 28 units or ~15 drinks/week). Light drinking may also increase male breast cancer, but more studies are needed.
Does alcohol increase the risk of all types of breast cancer?
Alcohol consumption is mainly associated with oestrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer.
Alcohol and breast density
Alcohol consumption increases breast density, which is strongly associated with increased breast cancer risk. It may also increase the risk of benign breast disease, which is itself a breast cancer risk factor (11, 12).
Alcohol and other risk factors
There may be a stronger association between alcohol and breast cancer risk among women who have hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (13). Risk is also increased for people who drink alcohol and smoke.
How does alcohol increase your risk of developing breast cancer?
More research is needed into how alcohol increases breast cancer risk (15).
For more prevention tips visit our Prevention Hub
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