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Did You Know There's a Link Between Alcohol and Breast Cancer?
By Benafsha Irani, DO
Breast cancer continues to be one of the most prevalent and concerning health issues affecting millions of women annually.
Because it affects so many women, researchers and medical professionals continue to pursue a better understanding of various risks associated with the disease.
One risk factor that has garnered significant attention in recent years is alcohol consumption. According to the American Cancer Society, drinking even small to moderate amounts of alcohol can increase the likelihood of developing different types of cancer, including breast cancer.
The Connection Between Alcohol and Breast Cancer
There are several links between alcohol consumption and why it may lead to the development of breast cancer.
First is alcohol's impact on hormone levels, especially estrogen. Estrogen plays a critical role in the development of functioning breast tissue. Drinking alcohol may change how a woman metabolizes the hormone, which can stimulate the growth of some types of breast cancer.
Secondly, some scientific evidence shows that alcohol can impact your body’s ability to absorb critical nutrients, including folate, a vitamin your body needs to stay healthy. If you have low folate levels, you may be at risk of developing breast cancer.
Finally, alcohol is full of empty calories, which can lead to weight gain. Carrying excess weight is also a leading cause of breast cancer.
All Types of Alcohol Increase Your Risk
The risk of developing breast cancer isn’t limited to a specific type of alcoholic beverage. Whether it’s beer, wine, or spirits, they all contain a substance known as ethanol. Ethanol breaks down into a carcinogen known as acetaldehyde, which can allow cancerous cells to grow.
Furthermore, studies on the relationship between alcohol consumption and breast cancer have shown that the more you drink regularly over time, the more you increase your chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
For example, if you are a woman and you consume three alcoholic drinks per week, your risk of getting breast cancer is 15% higher compared to a woman who doesn’t drink at all. This risk increases by an estimated 10% for each drink you have weekly.
Even if you’ve already had breast cancer, consuming alcohol poses a risk. Some research has concluded that if you drink three to four alcoholic beverages per week, your breast cancer could return, especially if you are overweight or have gone through menopause.
Moderation Is Key
There's been a lot of news in recent years about "the health benefits" of alcohol. You may have heard that drinking red wine, for example, is beneficial for cardiovascular health. While this debate continues, the best guidance is to not drink at all. If you enjoy an occasional glass of wine or a beer, it’s OK to do so in moderation. To avoid weight gain, choose a lower-calorie option. It's also best to avoid cocktails that contain 100-proof alcohol.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends limiting your intake of alcohol to two drinks a day for men and one glass a day for women. Anything more could be detrimental to your health. Besides breast cancer, alcohol consumption has been linked to the development of mouth, throat, liver, and colon cancers. It also can take a toll on your heart, liver, kidneys, and brain. Excessive drinking can also damage relationships and lead to mental health issues, such as depression.
Making Wise Decisions
Understanding the potential risks and making conscious decisions about alcohol consumption can reduce the likelihood of developing breast cancer. If you have other risk factors for breast cancer as well as family history, avoiding or cutting back on alcohol may be an important way for you to lower your risk.
If you’re concerned about your risk of developing breast cancer and have questions about daily alcohol consumption, talk to your healthcare provider.