It’s the kind of news that would kill anyone’s buzz. Research has shown again and again that women who drink alcohol have a higher incidence of breast cancer. These higher rates have been found in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women.
The increased risk is significant. As few as three drinks per week resulted in a 15-20% higher risk of breast cancer. Greater alcohol intake results in an increased risk.
Specifically, there’s a higher rate of breast cancer that’s hormone-receptor-positive. A woman’s body metabolizes estrogen differently when she has consumed alcohol, resulting in increased estrogen levels and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Overall, women who drink alcohol have higher estrogen levels than tea-totalers.
BreastCancer.org states on their website that, “Alcohol also may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells.” Alcohol is broken down into a chemical considered toxic, called acetaldehyde, which can damage the DNA in our cells. They recommend women should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks a week or less.
A serving of alcohol is 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, 12 ounces of beer or five ounces of wine.
Some women have said they drink red wine on a daily basis because they believe it is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Given the fact that what amounts to less than half a glass of wine a day significantly increases the risk of developing breast cancer, women may want to give some more thought to that habit.
Once a woman has been diagnosed with breast cancer, moderate alcohol consumption may result in an increased risk of the disease recurring. Drinking, however, doesn’t increase the risk of dying from breast cancer, according to researchers at Columbia University. Furthermore, a study from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, actually reported higher survival rates in women who were moderate to heavy drinkers.
When research results are conflicting, it can be challenging to know what to do. Kimberly W. Schlesinger, M.D., Medical Director, The Cancer Institute at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center (Towson, MD) tells Parentology, “Alcohol use and breast cancer is a complex issue. We know from several studies that increased alcohol intake, even 1-2 drinks every day for long periods of time, can increase the risk of a woman developing breast cancer.”
Schlesinger continues, “This has to do with alcohol’s interaction with estrogen. So if a woman is interested in doing all she can to prevent breast cancer, I always advise her to monitor alcohol intake. It is a small piece of the puzzle, but definitely something a woman can do to impact her risk.”
For women who have had breast cancer, Schlesinger says, “I encourage a holistic approach to improving one’s health. That includes reducing alcohol consumption. While studies suggest alcohol doesn’t increase the risk of dying from breast cancer, it’s difficult to say if alcohol increases the risk of cancer recurring.”
What she does advise — “I favor moderation, ideally limiting alcohol to 2-3 drinks a week on a regular basis. Vacations and holidays can be an exception; we’re talking about day-in-and-day-out alcohol use. Again, it may be a small piece of the puzzle, but it’s something individuals can choose to do that may have a long-reaching impact.”
Women should look at their overall risk and take into consideration other ways alcohol can impact their health.