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Does Drinking Alcohol Lead to Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, only surpassed by skin cancer, with nearly a quarter-million women being diagnosed each year in the United States.1

While many of the factors that increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer are out of her control (e.g., age and genetic makeup), some are in her control and may help to minimize risk. One of these risk factors for breast cancer is alcohol consumption.2

Moderate alcohol consumption has been linked with an increased risk of many types of cancer in women, including breast cancer.3,4 A woman can increase her risk of getting breast cancer by as much as 50% by having just 1–2 drinks per day. Higher alcohol intake appears to be correlated with an even further increase in breast cancer risk (about a 7% increase with every additional 10 grams consumed).4

Alcohol can increase breast cancer risk

Men also get breast cancer, but instances are rare, with less than 1% of breast cancers occurring in men. Research on male breast cancer has indicated, however, that rates of the condition are on the rise, with potential links being associated with genetics, obesity, and liver cirrhosis from excess alcohol consumption.5

How Does Alcohol Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer?

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Women’s Health looked at the possible mechanisms that explain how breast cancer risk is affected by alcohol consumption. Researchers studied factors such as the age of the onset of menstruation and the age of first pregnancies, along with rates of alcohol consumption in younger years and other breast cancer risk factors.6

They concluded that exposure to alcohol between the time of first menstruation and first pregnancy, which contributes to structural alterations in cells or tissues in the breast that may predispose it to breast cancer development. The risk increases with the duration of time between first menstruation and first pregnancy.6

Researchers also found evidence to support that the consumption of alcohol during adolescence and early adulthood (a time in which binge drinking is very common) may contribute to the increased risk. Binge drinking itself also appears to be a risk factor, with women who binge drink during the weekend but avoid alcohol during the week having a higher breast cancer risk than women who drink moderately throughout the week.6

The type of alcohol a woman drinks may also influence her risk. For example, red wine may contain anticancer properties, and its consumption may be linked to a lower risk of mammographic density than beer or white wine.6 Mammographic density is associated with a higher probability of developing breast cancer.7

Furthermore, alcohol intake contributes to breast cancer risk through its ability to increase levels of estrogen production indirectly in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women.6

Ways to Lower Your Risk of Breast Cancer

You may not be able to change some of the genetic risk factors for breast cancer, such as the presence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes or your own family history of cancer. However, you can make some lifestyle changes that may lower your overall risk of breast cancer:2

  • Abstain from alcohol, particularly early in life (adolescence and early adulthood). If you do choose to drink, limiting your consumption to one drink per day can help to keep your risk relatively low.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Discuss your risks with your doctor, including any hormone replacement therapy you may be on or oral contraceptives you are taking.
  • Breastfeed your children, if possible.

Staying healthy in all areas of your life will reduce your overall cancer risk, and it will increase the likelihood that you will survive if cancer does develop.2 Early detection is associated with better outcomes,8 so do not hesitate to get any potential symptoms checked out by your doctor so you have the best possible chance of recovery from breast cancer.

Signs & Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Woman meeting with doctor

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer allows you to check for any concerning changes and ask your doctor about them. You can conduct a breast self-exam regularly to monitor for changes in your breast. Concerning changes to look for include:1

  • Changes in the size and shape of the breast.
  • Pain in any area of the breast.
  • Discharge from the nipple other than breastmilk, such as blood or pus.
  • Any new lump in the breast or underarm area.

If you notice any of these warning signs, see your doctor right away for further examination and diagnosis. Women between 50 and 74 years old should be having mammograms every 2 years, while women between 40 and 50 can talk to their doctors about recommended screenings.1

If you are abusing alcohol and unable to stop, Laguna Treatment Hospital can help. We are the first chemical dependency recovery hospital in Orange County, and our medical detox program provides high-quality 24/7 care to safely usher you through withdrawal. Beyond detox, we offer several levels of care to help you overcome alcohol addiction and improve your overall health.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Breast Cancer Awareness.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Women’s Health.
  4. McDonald, J. A., Goyal, A., & Terry, M. B. (2013). Alcohol Intake and Breast Cancer Risk: Weighing the Overall Evidence. Current breast cancer reports, 5(3), 10.
  5. Humphries, M. P., Jordan, V. C., & Speirs, V. (2015). Obesity and male breast cancer: provocative parallels?. BMC medicine, 13, 134.
  6. Liu, Y., Nguyen, N., & Colditz, G. A. (2015). Links between alcohol consumption and breast cancer: a look at the evidence. Women’s health (London, England), 11(1), 65–77.
  7. Boyd, N. F. et al. Mammographic density and the risk and detection of breast cancer. N Engl J Med 356, 227–236.
  8. Wang L. (2017). Early Diagnosis of Breast Cancer. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 17(7), 1572.
  9. MedlinePlus: Risk of Developing Breast Cancer
About The Contributor
Ryan Kelley, NREMT
Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers
Ryan Kelley is a nationally registered Emergency Medical Technician and the former managing editor of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS). During his time at JEMS, Ryan developed Mobile Integrated Healthcare in... Read More