“My mum does not want me to drink alcohol until I’m 18 and she’s trying to scare me by saying that it causes all of these problems. One of the ones she keeps warning me about is that alcohol causes breast cancer. That’s not true is it? If it was there would be so many people dying from the disease.”
Alcohol use increases the risk of developing a range of cancers, particularly cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver and, yes, just as your Mum said, the breast. Although very few people are aware of it, it doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you drink – the risk of cancer increases with every alcoholic drink you have.
Breast cancer is believed to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, with 53 people diagnosed with the disease every day. Some people are at greater risk of getting breast cancer than others and sadly, there is little they can do about those risk factors, e.g., a woman’s age or family history. However, the amount of alcohol you choose to drink is something that you can change to reduce the risk.
Alcohol is thought to be the cause of between 5-11% of all breast cancer cases. Even though research has found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol is linked with an increased risk of breast cancer it is still not completely clear why this is the case. We do know that alcohol limits the liver’s ability to control estrogen levels in the body. This can lead to increased estrogen levels which we know is linked to breast cancer in postmenopausal women. There is also increasing evidence that alcohol can damage DNA and that cells that have damaged DNA are more likely to be cancerous.
This is not as simple as if you drink alcohol you’ll get breast cancer. Like almost everything in life, it’s far more complicated than that. It is important to remember, however, that when it comes to breast cancer risk, no amount of alcohol is considered safe.
First published: March 2021