Alcohol and Breast Cancer Risk: What You Need to Know

A mixed drink after work to unwind, a glass of wine with dinner, a nightcap to relax before heading to bed — having one drink every day isn’t a big deal, right? Except, for a woman, maybe it is.

How Much Alcohol is Safe for Women?

Just three drinks per week raise the risk of invasive hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer by 15%. Drinking 2-3 drinks per day increases the risk to 30-50%. One drink, for the purposes of the studies that found the results, was defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

Why Alcohol Raises the Risk of Breast Cancer

One reason that alcohol increases risk is that it increases levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. It has also been associated with an increase in breast tissue density. Increased breast tissue density is associated with a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Another reason alcohol might raise the risk is that the empty calories can lead to weight gain. Being overweight is another risk factor for developing breast cancer.

Alcohol Recommendations for Women

Lowering the risk of breast cancer might be as simple as reducing alcohol consumption. Complete abstinence might be the safest option. But it may be best to consume no more than 2 drinks per week, according to

Toward that end, mocktails are very popular if it’s a social situation. Try to stay away from distilled alcohol because it’s more calorie-dense and higher in alcohol per volume. Instead, opt for lower-calorie fermented options like beers, wines, or wine-coolers. They contain less alcohol, and most can find waistline-friendly options.

Drinking is a controllable breast cancer risk factor. And lowering risk in as many areas as possible has a positive impact. When it comes to going out with friends or celebrating holidays or special occasions, having a drink every once in a while won’t significantly increase the chances of getting breast cancer — but again, it does if it's all the time. It’s the routine daily and weekly things we do that might make a bigger impact.

If you or someone you know are struggling with alcohol addiction, be sure to talk to a healthcare provider or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). There are more options than AA these days, too, so help is available in a variety of forms.

Be sure to check out the Wellness special report on alcoholism, too. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

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5/26/2020 3:48:54 PM
Wellness Editor
Written by Wellness Editor
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