Many studies show that 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 [55,172-173].
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, but for those who drink some, getting enough folic acid (often called folate on nutrition labels) may help reduce the extra breast cancer risk linked to drinking alcohol [174-176]. Not all studies show that folic acid reduces this extra risk [177-180].
Folic acid is part of a healthy diet. You can get folic acid through a multivitamin or foods such as oranges, green leafy vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.
Low to moderate alcohol use in healthy adults
No one should drink a lot of alcohol. Drinking more than one drink per day (for women) and more than two drinks per day (for men) has no health benefits and many serious health risks, including breast cancer. However, drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol may lower the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and death [517-518]. Talk to your health care provider and make informed choices about whether or not to drink alcohol as there are some benefits and many risks to consider.
Alcohol and breast cancer recurrence and survival
Some findings suggest women who drink alcohol after they are diagnosed with breast cancer have an increased risk of recurrence [21-22]. However, other studies have shown no difference in recurrence between survivors who drink alcohol in moderation (less than one drink a day for women) and survivors who are non-drinkers [22-24].
Findings from studies on alcohol and survival are also mixed. Some studies have found that breast cancer survivors who drink alcohol have an increased risk of death, while others have not [21-24]. One reason for these mixed findings may be that drinking in moderation has some health benefits. It may lower the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and death [517-518]. It is important to note that excessive alcohol drinking has no health benefits, only health risks.
Susan G. Komen®’s breast self-awareness messages
1. Know your risk
- Talk to both sides of 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
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time.