It has sometimes been recommended for women to drink a serving of alcohol today for their health. Specifically, one drink per day may help with a woman’s chances of preventing heart disease and may even help reduce the risk of diabetes.
However, that one drink, be it a can of beer or glass of wine, may have a potential negative health effect. Not just moderate use, but even slight use of alcohol, can increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.
Just One Drink?
One serving of alcohol is typically given as one twelve-ounce portion of beer, five ounces or wine, or one shot (1.5 ounces) of hard liquor. Smaller servings than this, such as eight ounces of beer or one ounce of hard liquor, per day, were enough to cause an increase in the risk of women developing breast cancer.
Now this increase was small. The risk increased by 5%, and since this refers to relative risk rather than absolute risk, it does not mean that 5% of all women who have any alcohol will develop breast cancer when compared with women who do not. It means that when you look at teetotaler women with breast cancer, that number is 5% higher in women who drink.
This is still an increase, and may be worth caution. Also, that number increased to 9% for women who had gone through menopause. However, this is not the end of the world. Other things impact your chances of breast cancer even more.
12 Million Women Strong
The American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund compiled a report about breast cancer. This was not new research. What they did was look at existing research and compiled it together.
A lot of existing research. One hundred and nineteen studies in fact, all across the world, with over twelve million women as participants. They looked at 260,000 cases of breast cancer. That is a fairly strong base.
The authors looked at all of this research and used it to create the Continuous Update Project, also known as CUP. The CUP is focused on preventing all sorts of cancers, but the version we are looking at relates to breast cancer.
They looked at food. They looked at nutrition. They looked at physical exercise. They tied it all to breast cancer. Their goal is to compile all of this information, figure out what increases and what decreases the risk of breast cancer, and disseminate it all so that no woman ever develops this or any preventable cancer. A worthy goal.
This report, in 2017, is the second CUP report on breast cancer. The first report was in 2010. The report does not concern itself with breast cancer in men, because while that is possible, it is much rarer.
Alcohol Is Not Alone
Drinking alcoholic beverages daily was not the only potential cause for an increased risk of breast cancer. It was notable in that with those twelve million women and 260,000 cases of breast cancer, no threshold for a safe daily dose was identified.
Some other surprising variables were identified as strongly increasing the risk of developing breast cancer for premenopausal women. A greater birth weight and taller height as an adult were a couple of these variables. Neither of these directly caused the cancer, but rather, were markers for genetic, environmental, and nutritional factors which play into the risk of developing this type of cancer.
Adult-attained height, but not birth weight, affected the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Physical activity was a benefit to both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Any physical activity helped women after menopause. For women before menopause, limited physical activity had little benefit (but still had a benefit), vigorous physical activity was required to have a strong reduction in risk.
Lactating and breastfeeding reduced the risk of breast cancer for women on either side of menopause.
Adult body weight had an odd relationship with breast cancer. Women aged 18 to 30 were actually protected against breast cancer by having what would otherwise be considered excessive body fat. However, after passing through menopause, body fat and weight gain increased the risk of developing breast cancer.
Oddly enough, the excess body fat when a young adult still had some protective effect on postmenopausal women. However, after menopause, being overweight increased the risk more than the reduction granted by being overweight when younger. It was still beneficial, when looking at both before and after menopause, to stay at a healthy weight.
The evidence suggested, but weakly, that non-starchy vegetables, foods containing carotenoids, and diets high in calcium had limited beneficial effect. Not against all types of breast cancer, however.
Age was an unfortunate but unavoidable factor. The older you are, the higher your risk of breast cancer. Nobody has yet invented a machine to reverse aging and the Fountain of Youth has not yet been found, so each year increases your risk.
Fighting the Risk
A single serving of an alcoholic beverage per day increased the risk of developing breast cancer. Consuming more alcohol increased it even further. Consuming less decreased the risk. Avoid consuming alcohol as a daily habit. Not only your liver will thank you, but your breasts will as well.
If you want to continue to consume alcohol, some of the voluntary activities decreased the risk of developing breast cancer at a greater rate than consuming alcohol increased the risk. Even moderate exercise, such as going for a walk daily, decreased the risk by 13%.
Perhaps you could sip a glass of wine while walking through the woods?
Walking has many other benefits to a person, such as improving blood flow, improving digestion, and encouraging a healthier body composition.
Though, really, avoiding alcohol is the easiest way to avoid alcohol’s increase in the risk of developing breast cancer.
How Does Alcohol Cause Breast Cancer?
Most people know that alcohol is metabolized in the liver. But did you know that it is also partially metabolized in breast tissue? In your breasts, it forms potentially carcinogenic acetaldehyde and potentially produces reactive oxygen species, which are linked to DNA damage.
Alcohol is also a solvent, and before it is metabolized, it may help carcinogens penetrate into your cells. It also negatively impacts the metabolism of carotenoids and retinoids, which then negatively affects cell growth and repair, thus increasing susceptibility to carcinogens.
It can also increase your levels of estrogen, which in too-high amounts can promote cancer growth. Your endocrine system can also be affected by alcohol consumption.
Overall, alcohol consumption and metabolization affect a large number of systems, not only in your liver but in your breasts, which has the effect of increasing your chance of developing breast cancer with every drink you consume.
Alcohol increases your chance of developing breast cancer. It is no longer a question. It is a certainty.
There are ways of mitigating the risk, such as by increasing your physical activity, maintaining healthy body weight, and consuming a variety of non-starchy vegetables.
But the unfortunate fact of the matter is that every sip you take of an alcoholic beverage increases your risk of developing breast cancer by a minute amount. No safe threshold for alcohol consumption is known.
The increased risk is not very great. But breast cancer is the cause of one quarter of cases of cancer in women, and is the fifth leading cause of death from cancer in women. Is that drink worth the risk?