Breast cancer is linked to genetics, behaviors, and sometimes just bad luck. While people cannot control genetics, nor can they necessarily affect their biology, they can avoid destructive behaviors that affect the likelihood of developing breast cancer. One behavior that research has suggested may encourage the development of breast cancer is alcohol use and abuse.

Risk Factors For Breast Cancer

Only recently have researchers started focusing on the relationship between alcohol consumption and increased risk of breast cancer. A report prepared for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, explores new studies showing that ethanol alters estrogen receptors. Many cancer researchers believe that higher levels of estrogen may increase the chances of breast cancer. If estrogen receptors are changed, they may cause the body to produce more estrogen than necessary.  

Not only do the studies conducted suggest that ethanol may encourage estrogen development, but also that alcohol consumption encourages tumor development.

Ethanol affects cancer risk by:

  • Increasing hormone receptor levels.
  • Increasing cell proliferation, which in turn increases tumor growth.
  • Stimulating cells.
  • Increasing cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), a substance responsible for cells’ ability to communicate with one another. When the pathways are disrupted by alcohol, it can encourage cancer growth.  
  • Changing the way genes work.

Given these studies in both humans and animals, researchers feel comfortable connecting alcohol use and increased breast cancer risk.

Relationship Between Moderate Drinking And Cancer Risks

For the past decade, many physicians have encouraged patients to drink one glass of red wine a day to increase heart health. The connection between one drink a day and a higher risk of breast cancer must be weighed.

How much alcohol actually affects breast cancer risk? Or, does a woman have to abuse alcohol to increase her chances of breast cancer and other diseases? According to a Harvard study of 106,000 women, women who drank three to six drinks a week increased their chances of breast cancer by 15 percent over women who abstained.

Another study indicated even graver risks, but that a drink a day increased women’s breast cancer risks by 4 percent, while three or more daily drinks can cause an increased risk of 40 to 50 percent.

The risks in both studies did not change based on the type of alcohol that a woman drank. Ultimately, what these studies show is that drinking should be done in moderation. As researchers come closer to understanding the relationship between breast cancer and alcohol abuse, women should pay attention to the choices they can make to cut risks.