breast cancer risk is impacted by several lifestyle choices (specifically, weight
control, physical activity and breastfeeding), research shows that it may be
less affected by dietary choices than some other cancer sites. The major
exception: alcohol consumption.
According to the
latest report on diet and cancer risk published by the American Institute for
Cancer Research (AICR), there is convincing evidence that alcohol intake raises
risk for breast cancer. An analysis of the research compiled by AICR found that
breast cancer risk increases 6 to 10 percent for every 3 ounces of wine, 9
ounces of beer or 1 ounce of 80-proof liquor consumed each day. Subsequent
research supports these figures, noting a 3 to 15 percent increased risk for
similar daily consumption.
Alcohol may exert
its impact in several different ways and researchers are working to identify
who may be most at risk. Many of the potential hypotheses involve mechanisms
that foster DNA damage and can trigger the process of cancer development.
alcohol may disrupt absorption and use of folate, a B vitamin needed for
production and repair of DNA.
some experts suggest that women who meet daily folate recommendations are less
at risk, this is not seen consistently.)
Another possibility is the breakdown of alcohol into acetaldehyde in the
body, a compound that can react with cells’ DNA and has been shown to cause
cancer in animals.
Lastly, when alcohol
is metabolized, free radicals form; these highly reactive substances can cause
DNA damage as well.
In addition to its more general role in
promoting DNA damage, alcohol affects breast cancer risk specifically by
raising body levels of estrogen.
According to the research, estrogen-sensitive breast cancers are much
more likely to be affected by alcohol than the less common estrogen-negative
forms of the disease. Alcohol’s impact does not seem to differ based on pre- or
Genetics may also
play a role in assessing the risk associated with alcohol consumption. People
who inherit different forms of alcohol metabolizing enzymes may be affected by
alcohol differently. However, researchers are a long way from being able to
identify individual differences in safe levels of alcohol consumption.
So how much
alcohol can a woman safely consume? According to many experts, risk is likely
minimal with consumption of one standard drink per day
(equivalent to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of
beer and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor). The important message: Risk clearly
increases as the amount imbibed increases.
But be warned –
some emerging research suggests that even small increases in daily alcohol
consumption may have drastic consequences.
A new study recently presented at a major cancer research conference
reported that, compared to women who did not drink any alcohol, risk of
hormone-sensitive post-menopausal breast cancer increased 7 percent among those
who consumed less than one drink daily. That figure jumped to a 32 percent
increase with one to two drinks daily, and to a 51 percent increase with three
or more drinks daily.
Women who face
other risk factors, particularly those with a family or personal breast cancer
history, might choose to limit alcohol consumption to less than one standard
drink per day or abstain altogether. Also since weight control has such a large
impact on risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, limiting the “empty calories”
of alcohol may bring double benefits.
September 15, 2008
Contact: Sarah Wally, (202) 328-7744
The American Institute for Cancer Research
(AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of
nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets
the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has
contributed more than $86 million for innovative research conducted at
universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published
two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field and
is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range
of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary
changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is
presented in brochures, seminars and on its Web site, www.aicr.org. AICR is a
member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.
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