Drinking Alcohol and Breast Cancer: Alcohol Consumption as a Risk Factor

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has conducted an exhaustive analysis of the scientific medical evidence regarding alcohol and breast cancer. It concludes that "The effect of alcohol on the risk for breast cancer remains controversial" and describes it as "inconclusive." 1 Consistent with this conclusion, the National Cancer Institute does not include alcohol consumption as a risk factor in its Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool. 2

Some studies have found a correlation between alcohol and breast cancer. The association is typically, although not always, described variously as "modest," 3 "minor," 4 "weak," 5 "generally weak," 6 "relatively weak," 7 "small" 8 and "very small." 9 Some studies have found no association between drinking alcohol, especially at moderate levels, and breast cancer. 10 Other scientific studies have found that drinking alcohol in moderation is associated with a reduction of breast cancer risk. 11

The nature and inconsistency of the evidence 12 has called into question the existence of any causal link between moderate alcohol consumption and breast cancer.

Fortunately, the risk of breast cancer is low. "A typical 50-year-old woman has a five-year breast cancer risk of about 3 percent. If her risk jumps by 30 percent, her individual risk is still only about 4 percent." 13 The risk of dying from heart disease is about ten to twelve times greater than dying from breast cancer among women in the U.S.

It appears that drinking alcohol increases the risk of invasive ductal carcinoma, a major form of breast cancer. However, there is no evidence that it increases the risk of

There is scientific evidence that adequate consumption of Vitamin B-9 (folate or folic acid) may eliminate any risk of breast cancers associated with drinking alcohol. An exhaustive review of the research evidence has found that women who drink alcohol and have a high folate intake are not at increased risk of breast cancers compared to those who abstain from alcohol. 28

An example of the evidence comes for a study of over 17,000 Australian women aged 40-69 over a period of about ten years. Women who consumed 40 grams of alcohol per day (about three drinks) and took 200 micrograms of Vitamin B9 every day, had a lower risk of breast cancers than did women who abstained from alcohol. 29

Foods rich in folate include citrus fruits, citrus juices, dark green leafy vegetables, dried beans, and peas. Most daily multiple-vitamin tablets also contain Vitamin B9. 30

About 50% of women in the U.S. die from cardiovascular heart diseases (CHD) and about 5% die from breast cancer. That means that the average woman's risk of dying from heart disease or stroke is about ten times higher than her risk of dying from breast cancer.

It is important to balance the risk of cardiovascular diseases against the risk of breast cancer. Unless contraindicated, drinking in moderation is associated with better health and greater longevity but there is no best answer for everyone. Therefore, women should consult their health care providers to discuss their risk factors for these and other diseases based on their own specific genetic background, health, environment and life style.

In the words of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism,"Individual women, with the help of their physicians, must weigh their potential increased risk for breast cancer against their potential reduced risk for CHD in determining whether alcohol consumption should be reduced." 31

Regardless of a woman's decision, three things that contribute significantly to better health in general are (1) not to smoke, (2) not to be overweight and (3) to exercise regularly.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends that a woman consume no more than three drinks in any one day and an average of no more than seven drinks per week.

A standard alcoholic drink is:

Standard drinks contain equivalent amounts of alcohol. To a breathalyzer, they're all the same.

There is no evidence that any form of alcohol (beer, wine, or liquor - distilled spirits) confers greater health benefits than an other.

 

Note: This website is for general information only and does not provide medical/health opinion or advice and none should be inferred. Always consult a qualified medical care provider to discuss your specific circumstances.

Readings on Alcohol and Breast Cancer:

  • (Listing does not imply endorsement)
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  • 32. Bailey, L.B. Folate, methyl-related nutrients, alcohol and the MTHFR 677C -->T polymorphous affect cancer risk: intake recommendations. Journal of Nutrition, 2003, 133, 37485-37535.
  • 33. Baglietto, Laura, et al. Does dietary folate intake modify effect of alcohol consumption on breast cancer risk? Prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal, August 8, 2005.
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Additional Information on Alcohol and Breast Cancer

  • Alcohol and Breast Cancer
    Dr. William Waddell describes some of the issues in the relationship between drinking alcohol and the risk of breast cancer.
  • Folate, Alcohol & Breast Cancer Risk
    A study of 17,000 women has found that women who consume about three drinks per day but take 200 micrograms of folate or folic acid (Vitamin B9) per day have a lower risk of breast cancer than do alcohol abstainers.
  • Folate, Alcohol, and Breast Cancer
    Women who drink alcohol and have a high folate intake are not at increased risk of breast cancer compared to those who abstain from alcohol, according to an exhaustive review of the research evidence.
  • Breast Cancer and Folic Acid
    Folic acid appears to offset the risk of breast cancer from alcohol among women who drink in moderation.
  • Moderate Drinking and Breast Cancer
    Moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages appears to have little effect on women's risk for breast cancer according to research at the Centre for Alcohol Research at the National Institute for Public Health in Denmark.
  • Alcohol and Breast Cancer
    New data from the ongoing Framingham study indicate that alcohol consumption does not increase the risk of breast cancer.
  • Alcohol and breast cancer in the elderly
    By the age of 80, breast cancer will affect 8.8 of every 100 women. One drink a day raises the risk about one percentage point.

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