Why Does Alcohol Use Raise Cancer Risk
When you drink alcohol, your body breaks it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. DNA is the cells instruction manual that controls a cells normal growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumor.
Europe Has The Highest Rate
The WHO European Region, which comprises 53 counties, has the highest rate of new breast cancer diagnoses compared to any of its other regions.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer said in 2020 that alcohol consumption was responsible for almost 40,000 new breast cancer cases in Europe.
The same data shows that breast cancer has become the most common cancer globally. More than two million new cases were estimated in 2020, with about 100,000 of these attributable to alcohol consumption.
Consumption Of Alcohol Can Cause Breast Cancer
We have already discussed the link between breast cancer and alcohol. There is a definite of risk cancer and drinking alcohol every day. There is an even higher risk if we drink too much alcohol every day. Clearly we need to moderate our consumption of alcohol.
If you have tried to moderate your consumption of alcohol and failed, perhaps there is a better way? Maybe there is a reason to avoid alcohol completely.
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Alcohol And Breast Cancer Risk
Drinking as little as half a glass of wine a day may raise a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, a new study shows.
And don’t think that switching to beer or spirits is the answer: The more alcohol consumed on a regular basis, the greater the risk, says Wendy Y. Chen, MD, PhD, a cancer specialist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Chen notes that women thinking about having a few glasses of wine a day for their heart-healthy effects need to figure in the new findings when weighing the risks and benefits. She stresses that “its only regular, repeated use that increases the chance of breast cancer. For most women, having a glass of wine or beer on occasion is not a problem.”
Bringing It All Together
Other things that affect a womans breast cancer risk are less easy to control. As with most cancers, the risk of developing the disease increases with age. Having a family history of the disease can increase a womans risk, and breastfeeding can reduce it.
All the different things that can increase the risk of breast cancer are held together by a common thread: they all affect the hormones circulating around in the body in some way.
Hormones help control what happens inside our bodies by sending messages from one place to another including instructing cells when to stop and start multiplying.
If this system goes wrong, cells can get too many messages telling them to make more cells. And that can lead to cancer.
Overall the best advice is the same as at the start of the week: to keep active, keep a healthy weight throughout life, and limit alcohol.
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National Health Guidelines For Alcohol
UK national health guidelines recommend that women drink no more than 14 units a week.
This is the equivalent of six pints of lower-strength beer or six 175ml glasses of wine a week.
If you can, spread your drinks over a few days and have days off drinking each week.
Theres still a risk of breast cancer associated with this level of drinking. However, you can get breast cancer even if you do not drink, and it can be a useful limit to stick to when beginning to cut down.
Light And Moderate Drinking
Light drinking is one to three alcoholic drinks per week, and moderate drinking is about one drink per day. Both light and moderate drinking is associated with a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. However, the increased risk caused by light drinking is small compared to heavy drinking.
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Alcohol And Breast Cancer
The relationship between alcohol and breast cancer is clear: drinking alcoholic beverages, including wine, beer, or liquor, is a risk factor for breast cancer, as well as some other forms of cancer. Drinking alcohol causes more than 100,000 cases of breast cancer worldwide every year.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has declared that there is sufficient scientific evidence to classify alcoholic beverages a Group 1 carcinogen that causes breast cancer in women. Group 1 carcinogens are the substances with the clearest scientific evidence that they cause cancer, such as smoking tobacco.
A woman drinking an average of two units of alcohol per day has 8% higher risk of developing breast cancer than a woman who drinks an average of one unit of alcohol per day. Even light consumption of alcohol one to three drinks per week increases the risk of breast cancer.
Heavy drinkers are also more likely to die from breast cancer than non-drinkers and light drinkers. Also, the more alcohol a woman consumes, the more likely she is to be diagnosed with a recurrence after initial treatment.
Alcohol Breast Cancer And Men
Breast cancer in men is usually linked to changes in your genes . But alcohol could raise the odds, too. Researchers think this may have to do with the way alcohol damages your liver so it cant balance the level of sex hormones in the body. The levels of male hormones go down, and levels of the female hormone estrogen go up. Estrogen helps both normal and cancerous breast cells grow.
While there hasnt been as much research on breast cancer in men, one study found that having up to about four alcoholic drinks per day raises a mans chances of getting breast cancer by about the same amount that it does a womans chances. The odds go up sharply at amounts greater than about six drinks per day.
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Do I Have To Stop Drinking After A Breast Cancer Diagnosis
No. You dont have to do anything you dont want to do.
Some thoughts from the breast cancer trenches re: drink/dont drink:
- Life is short. Drink the wine.
- Life is precious. Live it up and enjoy it.
- I wont miss out on all the things I love.
- I want to enjoy life and that means drinking.
- It doesnt matter whether you drink or not. Some people never drink and get cancer. Some drink a lot and dont get it. I dont believe the studies.
People have strong opinions about their alcohol! And theyre entitled to them.
But please know this:
Alcohol is carcinogenic.
To reduce risk of an initial breast cancer diagnosis, there is no safe level of alcohol intake. Theres a risk relationship between alcohol and breast cancer, even at low levels of consumption.
The World Cancer Research Funds alcohol and cancer report indicates a confirmed link between alcohol consumption and pre- and postmenopausal breast cancer initial diagnosis.
Assessing Breast Cancer Risk
The American Cancer Society lists alcohol as a risk factor for breast cancer. It clearly states that having a drink or more a day is a risk factor for the disease. One standard drink a day is defined as moderation for women.
But this is the first study to show that even a half glass a day is associated with “a slight but definite increase in risk,” says Len Lichtenfeld, MD, the society’s deputy chief medical officer.
So what should a woman do with all this new information?
First of all, don’t fret if you’ve indulged in a glass of wine or beer now and then, Chen says. At the same time, don’t think that abstaining all week only to start partying come happy hour on Friday is going to help, Chen tells WebMD. “It’s the average amount the counts — a glass a day for seven days carries the same risk as seven glasses on one day, once a week.”
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that becoming a teetotaler means you’ll lower your risk of the disease, Lichtenfeld says.
The new findings “have to be looked at as one more piece of information among many risk factors,” he tells WebMD. “In the big scheme of things is a small issue” compared with something such as family history.”
A sure bet: Follow a healthy lifestyle, with a good diet, exercise, and avoidance of smoking and heavy drinking, Lichtenfeld says.
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How Does Alcohol Cause Breast Cancer
The focus of many studies into risk factors of breast cancer has been able to disprove many common myths and rumours. At the same time, there are undeniable facts about the proven links between breast cancer and alcohol dont be confused by the false messages.
The biggest risk factor for breast cancer is the unavoidable fact of being a woman.
There are also some other factors that we cannot change, such as increased age, hereditary factors and the natural production of estrogen.
These are unavoidable. But there are many lifestyle factors that we can control
How Does The Combination Of Alcohol And Tobacco Affect Cancer Risk
Epidemiologic research shows that people who use both alcohol and tobacco have much greater risks of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx , larynx, and esophagus than people who use either alcohol or tobacco alone. In fact, for oral and pharyngeal cancers, the risks associated with using both alcohol and tobacco are multiplicative that is, they are greater than would be expected from adding the individual risks associated with alcohol and tobacco together .
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Can Drinking Red Wine Help Prevent Cancer
The plant secondary compound resveratrol, found in grapes used to make red wine and some other plants, has been investigated for many possible health effects, including cancer prevention. However, researchers have found no association between moderate consumption of red wine and the risk of developing prostate cancer or colorectal cancer .
Effect On Absorption Of Folate Or Other Nutrients
Alcohol might affect the bodys ability to absorb some nutrients, such as folate. Folate is a vitamin that cells in the body need to stay healthy. Absorption of nutrients can be even worse in heavy drinkers, who often consume low levels of folate to begin with. Low folate levels may play a role in the risk of some cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer.
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How Does Alcohol Affect The Risk Of Cancer
Researchers have hypothesized multiple ways that alcohol may increase the risk of cancer, including:
- metabolizing ethanol in alcoholic drinks to acetaldehyde, which is a toxic chemical and a probable human carcinogen acetaldehyde can damage both DNA and proteins
- generating reactive oxygen species , which can damage DNA, proteins, and lipids in the body through a process called oxidation
- impairing the bodyâs ability to break down and absorb a variety of nutrients that may be associated with cancer risk, including vitamin A nutrients in the vitamin B complex, such as folate vitamin C vitamin D vitamin E and carotenoids
- increasing blood levels of estrogen, a sex hormone linked to the risk of breast cancer
The mechanisms by which alcohol consumption may decrease the risks of some cancers are not understood and may be indirect.
Postmenopausal Women At Greatest Risk
Previous studies have linked alcohol intake with an increased breast cancer risk. Alcohol may change the way the body metabolizes estrogen. Many breast cancers are fueled by the hormone estrogen. Therefore, regular use of alcohol is thought to increase the risk of breast cancer by increasing bloodestrogen levels.
The new study tracked the health of 122,000 women since 1976. They were free of cancer at the start of the study. Every four years, the women were asked how much alcohol they had used during an average month in the past year.
By 2002, nearly 6,000 of the women developed breast cancer.
When compared with teetotalers:
- Women who drank the equivalent of a half glass of wine a day were 6% more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Women who drank a glass or two a day faced a 21% increased risk of breast cancer.
- Those who drank more than two drinks a day were 37% more likely to develop breast cancer.
However, the risk was much greater in menopausal women:
- Menopausal women who drank a half glass of wine daily increased their chance of breast cancer by 18%.
The elevated risk was also more pronounced for women whose tumor growth was fueled by the hormones estrogen or progesterone — a group that accounts for about 70% of women with breast cancer.
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Can Alcohol Cause Breast Cancer A Board Certified Plastic Surgeon Weighs In
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. If youre a woman, you have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer in your lifetime. At our Fairfax practice, board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Hess has helped many women reconstruct their breasts following mastectomyan experience that has led him to explore the causes of breast cancer. In this months blog, Dr. Hess examines one such risk factor: alcohol.
What Does The American Cancer Society Recommend
According to the American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention, it is best not to drink alcohol. People who choose to drink alcohol should limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
The recommended limit is lower for women because of their smaller body size and because their bodies tend to break down alcohol more slowly.
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Want To Meet Me For A Drink Grab A Glass Of Wine And Discuss The Day And Life In General
In my pre-breast cancer days, I loved my red wine. Whether catching up with a friend or sharing a meal with my husband, a glass of a robust red was de rigueur. Occasionally Id sip dry Chardonnay, but those peppery, heavy Zins stole my heart.
On two separate trips to Europe, wine figured prominently in the itinerary. Visiting Burgundy, France and the Tuscan region of Italy, how could it not?
One glorious afternoon in Italy, my husband and I toured an obscure winery.
We tasted a variety of wines with a group of folks wed met at a cooking class earlier that day. Someone suggested this hidden gem, and we eagerly tagged along. We all knew each other only from the few hours wed cooked pasta together. Its a memory Ill treasure forever.
In this precious life there are so many simple pleasures to enjoy. A glass of really good wine is one.
Does Alcohol Provide Any Health Benefits
For decades, the popular rhetoric surrounding drinking has been that a drink or two a day wont hurt you, and may even provide some health benefits. This notion stemmed from the French paradoxclinical observations showing that while the French drank lots of wine and ate a diet rich in saturated fat, they still had lower rates of heart disease than Americans.
Proponents of this pro-alcohol message also claim that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce ones risk of diabetes, lower inflammation, and even extend lifespan.
Even just one drink per day may increase a womans risk of developing breast cancer.
But while the glass or two a day message may have been the norm even just a few years ago, an increasing amount of government officials and medical professionals are now suggesting that even moderate drinking can increase ones risk of developing health issues, including liver disease, depression, andyou guessed itbreast cancer.
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Does The Type Of Alcohol Matter
It doesnt matter your drink of choice. A juicy red wine, icy cold beer or fancy cosmopolitan all deliver alcohol to your system.
Wine, beer and spirits contain ETHANOL, which appears to cause the damage.
Ethanol is a clear, colorless liquid found in ALL types of alcohol, and the main active ingredient in ALL alcoholic beverages.
Beyond Breast Cancer: Alcohol And Health
Anything more than moderate drinking could take a toll on your health. It can also cause other serious health problems. Drinking is linked to several other forms of cancer, including mouth, throat, liver, and colon. It can damage your heart, liver, kidneys, brain, and even your unborn child if youre pregnant. It can also play a part in accidents, relationship problems, violence, and mental health issues like depression.
Breastcancer.org: U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics, Breast Cancer Risk Factors, Drinking Alcohol, The Risk Factors for Male Breast Cancer.
CDC: Glossary — Alcohol.
Harvard School of Public Health: Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits.
Health News Review: Todays alcohol and breast cancer headlines are wrong: Heres how news reports could have done better.
National Cancer Institute: Breast Cancer Risk in American Women, Alcohol and Cancer Risk.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: Alcohol and breast cancer risk: What to know.
Journal of Clinical Oncology: Alcohol Consumption and Breast Cancer Recurrence and Survival Among Women With Early-Stage Breast Cancer: The Life After Cancer Epidemiology Study.
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