Is there a link between alcohol and breast cancer?

Posted by on Aug 17, 2012 in Alcohol, Breast Cancer |

The results of studies show that there is a weak link between drinking alcoholic beverages and breast cancer at low levels of consumption, and that the risk of breast cancer increases as the amount of alcohol you have been drinking increases. In recent published studies, 65% reported that drinking alcohol was linked with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Women who drink alcohol may be different in multiple ways from those who do not drink alcohol. In order to determine if drinking alcohol is linked with breast cancer, it is said researchers must take into account other factors that have been shown to be linked to breast cancer risk. For example, getting older, having a family history of breast cancer, and getting their period at an earlier age, are all normal risk factors for breast cancer.

Multiple studies of alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk have taken known breast cancer risk factors into account and some studies have also included other types of habits and behavioral differences, such as diet and smoking which are huge links for breast cancer. The results of most of these studies suggest that the consumption of alcohol may have an independent and direct effect on a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.

If alcohol is linked with breast cancer, it is also good to know the age at which a woman starts to drink alcohol and that it is an important factor in alcohol’s link to breast cancer. Studies have shown that drinking before the age of 30 is more closely linked to breast cancer risk than recent or current drinking habits. Others studies have shown that current or recent drinking habits have a greater influence for breast cancer than drinking at an early age. Lifetime consumption of alcohol has also been shown to be an important factor when determining the risk for breast cancer. It just could be the total amount of alcohol consumed during a lifetime regardless of the age at which a woman starts drinking that is most important. Drinking at any age may be a link to breast cancer.

Drinking more, 2 to 5 drinks per day may be linked with a higher rate of breast cancer occurring, a rate that is about 40% higher than the rate for people who don’t drink at all. This heightened risk is similar in its comparison to that of other risk factors. Breast cancer risk is reported to be about 25% higher in women who started their period when they were 12 years or younger compared to those 15 years or older.  The risk of breast cancer among women who have mothers or sisters that had breast cancer is increased about 50% in comparison to those who don’t have a history of breast cancer in their family.

Some researchers reported that the consumption of beer and hard liquor, such as vodka and gin, had a greater link with breast cancer than the consumption of wine. But others have reported absolutely no difference in the type of alcohol consumed. Currently, this shows that it is most likely the alcohol in wine, beer and liquor and not some other part of these beverages that is linked with breast cancer.


Julie A. Napieralski, PhD. Research Associate and
Carol Devine, PhD, RD, Educational Project Leader, BCERF
Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors in New York State


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