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Can Alcohol Consumption Increase Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

middle aged woman with blonde hair sipping a glass of red wine

You’ve had a long, busy day at work and then at home caring for your family. You finally have time to kick back and unwind, so you pour yourself a couple glasses of wine, and relax. But could this routine increase your risk of breast cancer?

If alcohol is involved – the answer could be yes.

Penn Medicine has conducted several research studies to determine if there is a connection between breast cancer and alcohol, and to date, the findings show that even a modest (10 grams or more) intake of alcohol each day can increase your risk of developing breast cancer by eight to nine percent.

Women who consume larger quantities of alcohol each day are at an even greater risk, with the highest being an increase of 51 percent in women who consumed at least 30 grams of alcohol a day when compared to women who do not drink.

Three ways alcohol effects breast cancer risk

Although the connection between breast cancer and alcohol consumption is not clear, many believe that it comes down to alcohol’s negative effects on hormones. There are three main theories on how this comes into play:

1. Alcohol may cause an increase in estrogen

Alcohol may effect estrogen receptors, leading to an increase in estrogen levels and frequency of long menstrual cycles. This in turn can increase a woman’s exposure to endogenous estrogen, which can promote breast tumor growth.

2. Breaking down alcohol releases carcinogens into the body

Just like food, our bodies need to metabolize, or break down, alcohol in order to help it pass through the body. During this process, a carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, molecule known as acetaldehyde is formed. This bi-product of alcohol metabolism is known to induce DNA modifications, which in turn may promote the formation of breast tumors.

3. Alcohol consumption may decrease absorption of essential nutrients

Folate is a nutrient known to be important in DNA synthesis and repair. When we consume alcohol, absorption of these important nutrients, including folate, is decreased which can increase the risk of tumor formation.

But folate isn’t the only nutrient to worry about. If you consume alcohol on a regular basis and suffer from a B-12 deficiency like many women do, you may be further increasing your risk of developing breast cancer.

What about men?

While men are not immune to breast cancer and there’s been an increase in the number of men diagnosed with breast cancer over the years, there have not been may studies showing the connection between alcohol and breast cancer in men.

These studies are very limited and unsound; however, according to the findings, men who have a daily intake of three or more drinks have a 41 percent higher risk of dying of cancer.

Can I reverse the effects of alcohol to lower my breast cancer risk?

While it is recommended to reduce or eliminate alcohol from your diet in order to lower your risk of developing breast cancer, it is important to note that the changes won’t occur overnight. For the most part, the risk reduction after someone stops drinking alcohol is believed to take years before returning to the same risk percentage as those who are non-drinkers.

In addition to cutting down on your alcohol intake, one of our recommendations is to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Exercise is known to lower the risk of developing and also recurrence of breast cancer. In a recent study looking at exercise and breast cancer, researchers found that vigorous exercise in pre-menopausal women had a 17 percent lower risk and post-menopausal women had a 10 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who were the least active.

While a glass of wine at the end of a long day may seem like the perfect way to relax, you should ask yourself first, “Is this worth possibly putting myself at risk for breast cancer?”

Instead of pouring yourself another glass of wine or your spirit of choice, try healthier treats or even make up an alcohol-free mocktail.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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