The Latest Buzz? Alcohol Consumption Doesn’t Affect Breast Cancer Survival

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • News from the cancer research community can become very confusing – especially when it’s delivered in a 15-second sound byte by your local news affiliate’s talking head. Now that the recent flurry of articles around alcohol and breast cancer have died down – what’s the real story?


    OK, let’s take this particular bit of news one step at a time.


    Seattle’s well-respected Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center undertook a study involving nearly 23,000 women in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, following them from 1988 to 2009.


    The results of the Collaborative Breast Cancer Study, published last month in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, were surprising: women who drank moderately (3 to 6 drinks per week) before their breast cancer diagnosis showed a 15% reduced risk of dying from breast cancer.

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    Women who drank moderately after their diagnosis neither decreased nor increased their survival rate from breast cancer; but they cut their risk of death from a cardiovascular condition by a whopping 39% to 50%.


    And what about those of us who were moderate drinkers before diagnosis, then stopped drinking afterward? No change in breast cancer survival risk, but a 25% lower risk of cardiovascular death.


    Fred Hutchinson’s Polly Newcomb, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, concluded that “This study does provide support for a benefit of moderate alcohol intake for cardiovascular and overall survival of women with breast cancer, as observed in the general population…” (Rice, 2013)


    OK, here comes the confusing part: what about previous studies showing that alcohol consumption increases breast cancer risk?


    Still true. You’re more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer if you drink; and the more you drink, the greater your risk. 


    So if you’re trying to avoid breast cancer at all costs, don’t drink. But if you love the occasional glass of wine, continue to enjoy it – understanding that it’s fractionally increasing your breast cancer risk.


    Before you break out the 6-pack, here’s some more useful information. The greatest benefit from alcohol consumption came from red wine, not white wine, beer, or hard liquor. 


    And one serving of red wine isn’t a large wine glass filled to the rim: it’s 5 ounces, just under 2/3 cup. To put it in perspective, that’s less than 1/3 the size of a Starbucks grande (medium-size) latte.


    To sum it up – 


    Moderate drinking (enjoying 3 to 6 drinks a week) increases your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, but doesn’t affect your risk of dying from the disease.


    Moderate drinking can lower your risk of dying from a cardiovascular incident by up to 50%, depending on your drinking habits both before and after your cancer diagnosis.


    Now, wed those stats to the fact that women who undergo chemotherapy are about 7% more likely to die of heart disease than the general population. 


    Aside from the added calories, that occasional glass of red wine looks better and better, doesn’t it?


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    Petrochko, C. (2013, April 12). Breast cancer: Alcohol may impact survival. Retrieved from 


    Rice, S. (2013, April 08). Moderate alcohol use may benefit breast cancer survivors . Retrieved from






Published On: May 21, 2013