Alcohol Linked to Breast Cancer Recurrence

Women who have survived breast cancer are understandably concerned that they will develop a second breast cancer. However, recent research shows that by limiting their alcohol consumption, breast cancer survivors significantly reduce their risk recurrence.

Women who are moderate to heavy drinkers (three to four drinks per week) have a 30 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer again, especially if they are obese or post-menopausal. Although this research data is still preliminary, it can help women make informed decisions about drinking alcohol.

Alcohol and Cancer

Scientists have clearly linked alcohol consumption to numerous types of cancers, including breast cancer. There is a strong association between alcohol and hormone-positive tumors, the most common type of breast cancer. Women who drink one to two drinks per day are 32 percent more likely to develop hormone-positive tumors; those who drink three or more drinks per day increase their risk by 51 percent.

One serving of alcohol is five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof alcohol--although a single serving in a bar or restaurant is likely to be larger. Despite evidence that red wine contains cancer preventive properties, when it comes to breast cancer, it doesn't matter if you drink red wine or white.

There are several reasons why alcohol is such a risk factor for breast cancer. Experts suspect that alcohol enhances the ability of cancer-producing substances to penetrate cell walls where they damage our DNA. Normally our body repairs damaged DNA or the cell dies. However, cancer cells continue to make new cells with the damaged DNA.

If you're a smoker, alcohol magnifies the carcinogenic effect of tobacco (a risk factor for lung and other types of cancers, including breast cancer). Alcohol also decreases our body's supply of folate, a B vitamin that's essential for healthy DNA repair and replication. Furthermore, alcohol increases the amount of estrogen in a woman's body, raising her risk of developing breast cancer.

Alcohol and Breast Cancer Recurrence

Women who've had breast cancer are at higher risk of developing a second breast cancer than women who've never had cancer. Obesity, alcohol consumption (one drink per day) and smoking significantly increase women's risk for developing a second breast cancer by 50, 90 and 120 percent, respectively. As with alcohol, obesity also increases estrogen levels.

The bottom line is that limiting your alcohol consumption is an important step towards reducing your overall risk for developing breast cancer.