Many studies show drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. A pooled analysis of data from 53 studies found for each alcoholic drink consumed per day, the relative risk of breast cancer increased by about seven percent . Women who had two to three alcoholic drinks per day had a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer .
Alcohol may increase breast cancer risk in several ways.
Alcohol, estrogen and breast cancer risk
Alcohol can change the way a woman's body metabolizes estrogen (how estrogen works in the body), causing blood estrogen levels to rise. Estrogen levels are higher in women who drink alcohol than in non-drinkers . These higher estrogen levels may in turn, increase the risk of breast cancer [46,155-156].
Learn more about estrogen and breast cancer risk.
Alcohol, folic acid and breast cancer risk
Drinking alcohol can reduce blood levels of the vitamin folic acid. Folic acid plays a role in copying and repairing DNA. Low levels of folic acid may make it more likely that DNA is incorrectly copied when cells divide. Such errors can lead cells down a pathway to become cancerous.
No one should drink a lot of alcohol. For those who drink some alcohol, getting enough folic acid (often called folate on nutrition labels) may help reduce the extra breast cancer risk linked to drinking alcohol [157-159]. Although not all studies show this benefit [160-163], folic acid is part of a healthy diet. You can get folic acid through a multivitamin or foods such as oranges, orange juice, green leafy vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure® recommends that you:
1. Know your risk
- Talk to your family to learn about your family health history
- Talk to your health care provider about your personal risk of breast cancer
2. Get screened
3. Know what is normal for you and see your health care provider if you notice any of these breast changes (see images):
- Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesn't go away
4. Make healthy lifestyle choices