Despite research clearly linking alcohol use and the risk of breast cancer in women, very few women reduce their alcohol intake, even after the age of 45.
A great number of factors potentially increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Some of these are non-modifiable states such as age and sex, but some can be acted upon, including a lack of physical activity or the presence of overweight and obesity.
However, research clearly shows that alcohol, despite being a clear risk factor for the development of breast cancer, is consistently ignored as a risk factor ignored by women over the age of 45. Research consistently shows that drinking alcoholic beverages — beer, wine, and liquor — increases a woman’s risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.
Alcohol may increase levels of oestrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer and may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells. Women who have three alcoholic drinks per week demonstrate a 15% higher risk of breast cancer, compared to women who don’t drink at all.
Currently, 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer during their lives, and 1 in 13 of those will develop it due to alcohol use. It is believed that one of the main reasons for the link between breast cancer and alcohol use is the role breast tissue plays in breaking down alcohol. Among the other, most prevalent links between alcohol and breast cancer are:
- When we drink alcohol, it’s broken down into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde can damage the DNA inside our cells, and then prevent damage from being repaired. This is important because it allows cancer to develop.
- Alcohol can increase the levels of certain hormones in the body, including oestrogen. We know that high levels of oestrogen can fuel the development of breast cancer, so this might be particularly important here.
- Alcohol also makes it easier for cells in the mouth and throat to absorb other cancer-causing chemicals. This is probably more important for other cancer types linked to alcohol rather than breast cancer.
Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day. It is recommended that women, particularly those over the age of 45, stay away from 100-proof liquor, since researchers believe that it’s the ethanol or alcohol in beer, wine and liquor that causes increased cancer risk.
Although it may not always be possible, it is recommended women, particularly those over 45, avoid alcohol as often as possible.