Research consistently shows that drinking alcoholic beverages -- beer, wine, and liquor -- increases a woman's risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol also may increase breast cancer risk by damaging DNA in cells.
Compared to women who don't drink at all, women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer. Experts estimate that the risk of breast cancer goes up another 10% for each additional drink women regularly have each day.
Teen and tween girls aged 9 to 15 who drink three to five drinks a week have three times the risk of developing benign breast lumps. (Certain categories of non-cancerous breast lumps are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer later in life.)
While only a few studies have been done on drinking alcohol and the risk of recurrence, a 2009 study found that drinking even a few alcoholic beverages per week (three to four drinks) increased the risk of breast cancer coming back in women who’d been diagnosed with early-stage disease.
The bottom line is that regularly drinking alcohol can harm your health, even if you don’t binge drink or get drunk. All types of alcohol count. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
Steps you can take
If you want to do everything you can to lower your breast cancer risk, limiting how much alcohol you drink makes sense. You may choose to stop drinking alcohol completely. But if you plan to continue drinking, try to have two or fewer alcoholic drinks per week.
For most of us, drinking is social. But cutting back on alcohol doesn’t mean cutting back on seeing your friends and family. If you’re not sure if you can go to an event and not have a drink, keep your health in mind. Remember that you’re keeping your risk of breast and other cancers as low as possible.
There are many great-tasting drink options that don’t involve alcohol. Mocktails — drinks that use all the ingredients of cocktails except for the alcohol — are available just about everywhere. Virgin Marys offer the healthy tomato juice of Bloody Marys without the vodka. Cosmo-Nots keep the healthy cranberry juice and eliminate the vodka. There are many online recipe sites that offer tips for making non-alcoholic drinks. The makers of non-alcoholic beer, wine, and champagne have improved the taste of their products and these, too, are widely available.
Here are some other ways to make your beverages festive:
- Freeze your favorite juice in an ice tray and use as ice cubes. This looks especially appealing in a pint glass of club soda or sparkling water.
- Get creative and make a dramatic mocktail using edible flowers preserved in syrup — you can eat the flower afterward.
- Put fresh organic raspberries or strawberries in the bottom of a champagne flute and top with sparkling water or ginger ale.
- Put chunks of fresh fruit on a drink stirrer and put into a glass of your favorite non-alcoholic beverage.
Learn more in the Think Pink, Live Green column Alcohol and Cancer: You Can’t Drink to Your Health.