Researchers and doctors have long known that consuming alcohol increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer. A new study, due to be released in the April, 2013 issue of the American Journal of Public Health_, shows a strong link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer death. Do you_ really need to give up that nightly glass of wine - or not?
If you’re a breast cancer survivor, you’ve probably read everything you can about the risk of recurrence.
After all, you don’t want to repeat that first "exciting" experience, do you? The surgery, radiation, chemo, all bringing their brutal side effects. To say nothing of the emotional and mental stress of thinking you’re going to die.
Been there, done that, not going back - God willing.
So you’re probably aware that there’s a direct relationship between the number of alcoholic beverages you consume, and your risk of recurrence. The more you drink, the more likely your cancer is to come back. Period.
Back in 1994, a compilation of 38 different studies showed that 1 drink per day - 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ½ ounces of liquor - increased breast cancer risk across the board (all types of cancer, all ages of women) by 10%. (Hamel, 2010)
A more recent study showed that for every 10g of alcohol consumed daily, breast cancer risk increases 9%. To avoid doing the math, this translates as follows: women who have 1 drink or less per day increase their risk of breast cancer slightly. Women who down 2 to 5 drinks per day increase their risk of breast cancer by a whopping 41%. (Hamel, 2010)
Now, we learn that not only does alcohol increase your risk of breast cancer; it significantly increases your risk of dying of the disease, as well.
A group of researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine, the National Cancer Institute, Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have released information, culled from years of research, stating that alcohol is responsible for 20,000 US cancer deaths annually (about 3.5% of all cancer deaths). (2013, DiGravio)
A significant number (30%) of those alcohol-related cancer deaths (6,000 deaths) are from breast cancer. With about 40,000 American women dying of breast cancer each year, that translates to alcohol being the root cause of approximately 15% of all breast cancer deaths.
Wow… That really gives you pause, doesn’t it? What about that glass of Chardonnay with dinner, or the cold beer at the cookout - are they really that dangerous?
Well, it depends on your emotional capacity for risk. Delving further into the data in this new study, we find that about 30% of alcohol-related breast cancer deaths are in women who down fewer than 1 ½ drinks per day.
That’s 18 ounces of beer: about 1 ½ bottles. Or 7 ½ ounces of wine: less than a cup. Or 2 ¼ ounces of hard liquor: two standard mixed drinks.
Study author Dr. David Nelson, director of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the NCI, noted, "As expected, people who are higher alcohol users were at higher risk, but there was really no safe level of alcohol use."
Addressing other studies showing responsible drinking may actually be beneficial to cardiac health, Nelson added, ""in the broader context of all the issues and all the problems that alcohol is related to, alcohol causes 10 times as many deaths as it prevents."
Should this new information change your drinking habits? It’s up to you. "From a cancer prevention perspective, the less you drink, the lower your risk of an alcohol-related cancer and, obviously, if one doesn’t drink at all then that’s the lowest risk," concluded Nelson. (Reinberg, 2013)
Personally, I’m going to continue to enjoy the occasional glass of wine with dinner, beer with a burger, or mojito on a hot summer day. But I’m going to do so with the understanding that each sip I take is increasing my risk of death from breast cancer - if only infinitesimally. And I’m willing to take that risk.
You might not feel the same. It’s your life; your possible death; and definitely your decision. Sources
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.