Alcohol And Breast Cancer – How Are They Connected?

March 3, 2022 • By Patricia Johnson
The estimated reading time is 11 minutes
alcohol and breast cancer

Do you usually count the numbers of drinks you have or just enjoy the moment and have fun with friends? Is it is safe to have a couple of drinks every day? Drinking can be fun but it can lead to so many unpleasant life situations, injuries, and health issues. It can even increase your chances of getting cancer, so be very cautious if you drink heavily and do not pay attention to drinks you have every day!  

When we speak about the bad effects of alcohol, we cannot somehow think of the wine, which is known for many health benefits, when you drink it in moderation. But, is the wine,  rich in antioxidants really healthy? Can the wine help you to prevent some diseases, even cancer? Let’s find out in this article!

Cancer Risk Factors

Unfortunately, we cannot point out one single cause that leads to getting cancer. Researchers believe that it is probably an interaction of a few factors (behavioral, genetic, environmental, cellular,) of the individual.

But, they know some of the main risk factors that may increase the chances of getting such as:

  • Exposure to chemicals and radiation
  • Older age (risk factor you cannot control)
  • Family history (risk factor you cannot control)
  • Being overweight
  • Tobacco use
  • HPV (Human papillomavirus )
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Diet
  • Hormones (risk factor you cannot control)
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Infectious agents
  • Immunosuppression

As we can see, drinking alcohol (all alcoholic drinks)  can raise the risk of getting cancer and it is responsible for 6 %  of all cancers and 4 % of cancer deaths in the United States (1).  Most people are not aware of the fact that alcohol can raise the risk of developing six types of cancer:

  • Mouth and throat.
  • Voice box (larynx).
  • Esophagus.
  • Breast (in women).
  • Liver
  • Colon and rectum.

It might also raise the risks of getting other cancers as well, (stomach for example). For most cancers, the more alcohol you drink, the higher the chances that you will develop cancer, but drinking a small amount of alcohol may also affect your body and there is a big risk of catching breast cancer even with drinking one glass of beer per day.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer has visible growth and it is most common in women. It grows in the breast’s cells and there are 4 progression stages.

According to WHO, breast cancer is cancer that is most frequently diagnosed in the European region and there are 1579 women unfortunately diagnosed every day with this disease. (2)

It develops when the breast cells start to grow abnormally and are rapidly dividing forming a lump. These lumps are usually painless but are visible

In the early stages, the cancerous cells are within the milk ducts, that supply the breast with milk and haven’t spread to other parts of the body. There are 4 stages of breast cancer:

  • Stage 0:  The cells are spread only within the milk ducts and in this stage is called ductal carcinoma in situ.
  • Stage 1:  The tumor has not spread to any lymph nodes, or there are some small cancer cells in the lymph nodes and it measures up to 2 cm.
  • Stage 2:  The tumor has started spreading to nearby nodes and is bigger (2-5 cm long) and has started to spread to the nearby nodes, but has not spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: In this stage, the tumor has spread to several lymph nodes, and is 5 cm long.
  • Stage 4: In the final stage, the tumor has spread to other body organs and most often to the brain, liver, lungs, and bones.

 As we have seen, breast cancer may easily spread to other parts of the body or the lymph nodes.  It is evaluated that probably around 5 to 10 % of breast cancers are related to genetics.

As this type of cancer is most common in women, there are some specific risk factors related to it such as follows:

  • Never been pregnant in life
  • You are a woman
  • You had your first menstruation before age 12
  • Genetics ( inherited genes and certain genes mutations referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2)
  • Your menopause started late
  • You had your first child after the age of 30
  • You are drinking alcohol
  • You are taking postmenopausal hormone therapy
  • You had a previous biopsy
  • White and African- Americans are more prone to getting breast cancer than Native American, Hispanic or Asian women.

On the other hand, if you are breastfeeding or you have breastfed, this decreases the chances of getting breast cancer. (3)  

There are some factors that cannot be related to breast cancer.

So, if:

  • You reduce the sweating with antiperspirants
  • You wear underwire bras
  • You had a miscarriage
  • You have fibrocystic breasts
  • You had multiple pregnancies
  • You drink coffee
  • You dye your hair

this might not be related to increasing your chances of getting breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Symptoms

One of the earliest symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • Your breast is changed in shape and appearance
  • You have a lump, hard knot on your breasts, or underarm, that looks different
  • There is an inverted nipple
  • There is a usual discharge from your nipple (sometimes blood)
  • Redness of the skin and over the whole breast, swelling or warmth
  • Itchy rash around the nipple
  • Breast pain that is not related to the monthly period and doesn’t ‘stop

How Can You Prevent It?

If you start changing your lifestyle, this may decrease the chances of getting breast cancer.

You should:

  • Drink alcohol in smaller amounts or stop drinking it
  • Talk to your doctor about the risks of taking postmenopausal hormone therapy
  • Inspect your breasts and make regular self-exams
  • Eat a healthy Mediterranean diet rich in extra virgin oil and nuts that might fight cancer incidence ( 4)
  • Eat a diet high in calcium and non-starchy vegetables
  • Lose weight if you are overweight and consult your doctor about it
  • start exercising
  • Talk to your doctor about breast screening and breast tests and mammograms
  • Breastfeed, if you can

 Alcohol And Breast Cancer

One new study, conducted in 2020, has shown that 4 % of the world’s newly diagnosed cancers are related to drinking alcohol and the vast majority was breast cancer in women. (5)

Why is this happening? Almost all alcoholic drinks contain ethanol, a chemical compound that is a natural byproduct of the fermentation of plants. This chemical compound,  ethanol is divided into acetaldehyde, a metabolite that damages the DNA and prevents the cells to repair the damage. (6)

What’s more, alcohol increases the level of estrogen and other hormones and provokes the cell to divide and there is a higher risk of getting cancer.

It also reduces the chances of absorbing, digestion, storage, and some nutrients and vitamins ( C, D, E, A, K, and B vitamins). (7)

People who drink alcohol more than recommended, are also deficient in some minerals (calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron). On the other hand, it increased the folic acid in their body, and all these factors, increase the chances of getting breast cancer.

The risk is even higher if it is influenced by your genes and those genes that encode enzymes involved in breaking down the cells.

And one of the worst pairings is that of alcohol and tobacco as alcohol increases the effects of tobacco and they both suppress the immune system. (8)

Is There Any Recommendation For Drinking In Adults?

2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 2 drinks per day for a man and 1 drink per day for a woman.

You should not drink if you:

  • Are pregnant or may be pregnant
  • Are under the legal drinking age
  • Have health problems that could be made worse by drinking
  • Are recovering from an alcohol use disorder or find it hard to control the amount you drink
  • Are driving

Unfortunately, there is no safe level of consumption alcohol when it comes to breast cancer and it is classified as a Group 1 human carcinogen by IARC.

Each glass of wine and beer you drink increases the risk of developing cancer and more than 10 % of cancer cases are related to drinking just one bottle of beer 02 two glasses of wine every day.

Nevertheless, studies showed that one wine ingredient resveratrol,  prevents estrogen to cause breast cancer and decreases the development of estrogen into cancerogenic compounds, and even increases one enzyme that destroys them. What is more important is that it lowers the chances of interaction between the estrogen metabolites and cellular DNA.

One review from 2018, that gathered results from 60 studies related to alcohol and cancer, indicated that very light drinking is not related to developing cancers, except for breast cancer in women and colorectal cancer in men.  (9)

The following results are found:

  • If you drink half an alcoholic beverage per day it increases the risk of getting breast cancer by 4%
  • If you drink one alcoholic beverage per day it increases the risk of getting breast cancer by 9%
  • If you drink one to two alcoholic beverages per day it increases the risk of getting breast cancer by 13%

In this clinical trial, one drink had 12.5 grams (g) of alcohol.

Wine And Breast Cancer

The wine has some health benefits, more specifically red wine if you drink it in moderation. It may help you with the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and help your heart health.

When we speak about cancer, we must mention its component resveratrol, which is a polyphenol, a highly praised antioxidant. (10).  Resveratrol can be found in red grapes, its skin, grape juice, peanuts, blueberries, cranberries, and it is its natural component.  

It's also available as a dietary supplement and you can buy it at the local drugstore.

There are many clinical trials and the risks and benefits of it are still to be tested more formally.

One new study published in The FASEB Journal in 2011, conducted by Italian and American scientists showed that resveratrol prevents the progression of cancer and rapid increase of the breast cancer cells. (11)

Red Wine And Breast Cancer

One other study, that compares white wine and red wine,  says that the aromatase inhibitors (AIs)  in red wine — and, white wine (with lower effect) — may raise the level of testosterone and decrease estrogen levels in females that are approaching menopause and increase the risk of getting cancer. (12)

Red wine contains more resveratrol than white wine as it is fermented in the skins, which is not case with the white wine. Most of the resveratrol in grapes is in the seeds and skin.

The negative side is that antioxidants in red wine are low and you need to drink a lot of it to ingest it and to serve as a prevention against cancer.

On other hand, and as already mentioned, there are many studies that support the claim that drinking a lot of alcohol can cause certain cancers, (breast cancer among others) if you drink it in high doses.

Nonalcoholic red wines may also include resveratrol.

If you need more healthy options than drinking red wine, you can start consuming more grapes and berries that are even richer in resveratrol.

How Can You Monitor More Easily Your Alcohol Intake?

As we have seen the bad effects of alcohol on your health and as some scientists even pointed out, alcohol is toxic and damages your genes, you should start controlling and measuring your daily intake and be more cautious when it comes to its consumption.

  • You can use a drink measure when you are at home to measure it
  • You can substitute it with water, which is one of the healthiest drinks and it is so beneficial for your body
  • Do not drink in rounds and drink at your own pace and routine
  • Limit the alcohol in your house
  • Start buying smaller wine or beer glasses
  • Start buying some attractive non-alcoholic drinks at home, such as sparkling water or healthy teas

Conclusion:

  • We cannot point out one single cause that leads to getting cancer, but there are some risk factors that can increase the chances of getting it.
  • Drinking alcohol is one of the risk factors that may seriously affect you and increase your chances of getting cancer. Unfortunately, there is no safe level of consumption alcohol when it comes to breast cancer and it is classified as a Group 1 human carcinogen by IARC.
  • Still, if you drink wine in moderation it may be safe and there are some proven health benefits such as prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and it may help your heart health.
  • Moreover, several studies showed that resveratrol found in wine prevents the progression of cancer and rapid increase of the breast cancer cells.
  • Overall, you should drink alcohol (wine included), in moderation and Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 2 drinks per day for a man and 1 drink per day for a woman to prevent any health issues and injuries. Alcohol is toxic and damages your genes.

Patricia Johnson

She is a personal professional trainer, health and fitness blogger that can transform your life and one of her biggest dreams is to see people healthier. Her articles incorporate in-depth exercise evaluation, nutrition advice based on scientific research and she strongly believes that her readers can achieve amazing health results without the guilt of complexity.
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