Thanks to decades of research, today’s consumers are armed with more information than ever before on how to lead healthy lives in an effort to prevent disease. Lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, and smoking, are often studied for their effects on disease risk. Another lifestyle factor—alcohol consumption—can also influence disease risk. And when it comes to the risk of breast cancer, some research has shown that consuming alcohol may increase that risk.
How Risk Factors Influence Disease
The more risk factors for breast cancer you have, the higher the risk of developing breast cancer. Keep in mind that having one or more risk factors doesn't guarantee you will get breast cancer. Many women who get breast cancer do not have any risk factors except increased age.
The cause of most cancers is unknown, but it is likely to be a combination of several factors that come together. Increased age, family history, genetic mutations, and certain lifestyle choices increase your overall risk.
Some risk factors can't be changed, like your history or genetic make-up. Others, such as exercise, diet, or alcohol use, are changeable. You can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by taking control of risk factors that you can change. Here is some information on how alcohol use increases your risk of breast cancer.
Researchers in England evaluated data from 53 previously published studies on alcohol and breast cancer. The review included data on more than 153,000 women and found a slightly increased relative risk (7%) of breast cancer in women who drank one drink per day compared with women who did not drink. Increasing alcohol consumption translated to increasing risk.
In addition to the British review, an ongoing research project on women's health, called the Nurses' Health Study, found support for the potential cancer-triggering effects of alcohol. Data gathered from 105,986 women found that those who drink alcohol have a small increased risk of developing invasive breast cancer. Data from the Nurses' Health Study also showed that women who drink moderately and take hormone replacement therapy may have an even higher risk of developing breast cancer.
Some research has suggested that the risk of cancer is increased in women who drink alcohol and have lower folate levels.
Overall, there is consistent evidence that moderate to high level of alcohol consumption is associated with higher incidence of breast cancer compared to no drinking.
Minimizing Risk and Keeping a Healthy Perspective
The American Cancer Society recommends that women at risk for breast cancer limit their alcohol consumption to no more than 1 drink per day. But there are no hard-and-fast guidelines regarding alcohol consumption with regard to breast cancer for every woman. That’s partly because more research is necessary. It’s also because each woman’s risk profile for breast cancer is different. Each individual woman must consider her risk factors together with her doctor and decide which lifestyle modifications may be necessary.
If you’re concerned about alcohol and your risk for breast cancer, see your doctor and discuss what your individual risk factors may be. Researchers point out that it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of alcohol consumption with regard not only to breast cancer, but to other conditions, as well.
Remember, too, that alcohol consumption is just one of many lifestyle factors that may influence disease. Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking—while not all necessarily related to breast cancer risk—are all important for overall health and well-being.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Alcohol use and cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/dietandphysicalactivity/alcohol-use-and-cancer. Updated April 5, 2017. Accessed October 4, 2017.
Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113654/Breast-cancer-in-women. Updated May 31, 2017. Accessed October 3, 2017.
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Last reviewed October 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 11/6/2015