breast cancer and alcohol

Breast cancer and alcohol: is it time for last orders?

You’ve probably seen the report which has flying all over social media over the past month: the study conducted by the World Cancer Research Fund which claimed that half a glass of wine (or a half of beer, or anything that constitutes 1.25 units of alcohol) increases the risk of breast cancer.

The report – created by a non-profit medical body which continuously reviews the global evidence on the links between breast cancer and diet, weight and exercise – claimed that for each 10g of pure alcohol consumed per day, the risk of premenopausal breast cancer increases by 5%, and the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer increases by 9%. We’ve already discussed the plethora of food scares that generate clicks and sell newspapers in a previous post, but alcohol is a far more known quantity in the world of medical research.

The link between breast cancer and alcohol

Sadly, it’s an established fact that alcohol causes 4% of cancers in the UK, and is the direct cause of roughly 12,800 cases of cancer in this country every year. Regular consumption of alcohol increases the risk of mouth and throat cancers, liver cancer and bowel cancer – and there is a clear link between breast cancer and alcohol. The nature of your consumption has nothing to do with it: people who drink a small amount on a daily basis run the same risk as heavier weekend and special-occasion drinkers.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s also a side-effect when we consume alcohol: our bodies convert it into a chemical known as acetaldehyde. It’s something that occurs naturally in ripe fruit, bread and coffee, and it’s also the element that causes hangovers. In minor quantities, it’s broken down naturally by the body, but there’s a chance that it can cause cancer by damaging DNA and preventing cells from repairing the damage.

Should you go on the wagon?

So, the only logical thing for people to do is to clear out their drinks cabinets and avoid the wine bars, right? Well, a lot of experts – including the people who launched the study – aren’t as militant about the subject as you’d think. As Sarah Toule, the WCRF’s Head of Health Information, points out; “With social drinking so ingrained in British culture, we realise that giving up might not be realistic for everyone. If you do choose to drink, you should at least try to reduce your intake.”

Other experts claim that the study is telling us nothing we don’t already know – that, like practically everything else we eat and drink, there is an element of risk, and the onus is on the individual, while some are pointing out that the report does not provide absolute risks and – as such – is not solid and inarguable proof that women should go teetotal.

When it comes to breast cancer, there are many different factors which could cause a person to develop it, and some such as genetics and family history are impossible to control. Our advice: by all means be aware of what causes cancer and consider lifestyle changes such as being physically active, controlling your weight and limiting your alcohol intake that can help reduce the risks.