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Study: Alcohol and breast cancer risk in African American women

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This study is about:

The link between alcohol and breast cancer risk in African American women.

Why is this study important?

Alcohol, like tobacco, is considered a “” that can cause cancer and fuel its growth.

Past research has shown that alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer. But these studies have focused mostly on breast cancer risk in White women. Their are differences in breast cancer risk and mortality between women of different ethnic and racial groups. Compared to White women, African American (AA) women who develop breast cancer are more likely to have an aggressive type of cancer. For this reason, it is important for researchers to make sure that studies include a diverse group of participants. 

This study looked at alcohol and breast cancer risk in African American women. The study found that similar to White women, increased alcohol consumption is associated with a greater risk of breast cancer. This is important because women may be able to lower their breast cancer risk by drinking less alcohol.

Key Study finding: 

  • Among African American women, drinking 7 or more alcoholic drinks per week increased the risk of breast cancer.
  • Women who reported drinking 14 or more drinks per week were at the highest risk.
  • Never drinkers also had an increased risk of breast cancer compared to light drinkers (0-4 drinks per week). This increased risk was statistically significant.

What does this mean for me?

Breast cancer rates are nearly identical for African American and White women. About 12.4% of women born today will develop breast cancer sometime during their lifetime. Similar to previous studies in White women, this study found evidence that alcohol also increases breast cancer risk in African American women. However, this increase is small. For those who drink 14 or more drinks per week, the data in this study suggests that their risk would increase by only 4%. While the observation that "never drinkers" in this study also had increased risk of breast cancer, the authors indicate that they did not have information on the reasons why women did not drink. Knowing this information, could have shed light on the increased risk observed among never drinkers. The good news is that, unlike age or family history, alcohol is a modifiable risk factor—it can be changed and controlled. If you are an AA woman concerned about your risk of breast cancer, you may want to consider reducing your alcohol intake.  

Posted 10/27/17

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Williams LA, Olshan AF, Hong C, et al. “Alcohol Intake and Breast Cancer Risk in African American Women from the AMBER Consortium.Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. May 2017; 26(5).

World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research; Continuous Update Report: “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Breast Cancer 2017.” 


FORCE receives funding from industry sponsors, including companies that manufacture cancer drugs, tests and devices. All XRAYS articles are written independently of any sponsor and are reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board prior to publication to assure scientific integrity.

This article is relevant for:

African American women who would like to lower their breast cancer risk

This article is also relevant for:


people with a genetic mutation linked to cancer risk

healthy people with average cancer risk

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Study background:

Breast cancer survival rates differ between non-Hispanic White women and AA women, who are almost twice as likely to die of breast cancer by age 50.  This difference may be due in part to the of cancer at diagnosis and the higher rates of in Black women.  Because breast cancer survival rates are worse for AA women, and most breast cancer risk factors have been identified by studying White women, it is important to better understand the risk factors that contribute to increased risk in African American women.

Reports from The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project (CUP) reveals how much daily drinking might impact breast cancer risk for both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. “Sipping an average of 10 grams of alcohol a day—equivalent to a small glass of wine, an 8-ounce beer or 1 ounce of hard liquor—is associated with a 5% increased breast cancer risk in premenopausal women and 9% increase in postmenopausal women”, said Dr. Anne McTiernan, a lead author of the new report and a cancer prevention researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The CUP report showed a significantly greater risk in breast cancer with increasing alcohol consumption for both groups, leading the CUP to conclude that alcoholic drinks probably contribute to risk of premenopausal breast cancer and may contribute even greater risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. However, the CUP report was based on data from studies of women in Europe and North America and risks were not broken down by race.

The results of another study (which is the featured study of this review) by Lindsay A. Williams colleagues were published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in May 2017. Researchers analyzed questionnaire data on alcohol intake and breast cancer diagnoses from 22,338 women from the African American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk (AMBER) consortium. 

Researchers of this study wanted to:

Determine if alcohol consumption increased breast cancer risk among African American women. 

Population(s) looked at in the study:

This analysis included 22,338 African American women from the AMBER consortium, which consists of four large epidemiologic studies on breast cancer: the Carolina Breast Cancer Study, the Black Women's Health Study, the Multiethnic Cohort Study and the Women's Circle of Health Study. Each study measured alcohol intake via questionnaires. The current analysis included 5,108 cases of invasive breast cancer and 17,230 controls, of whom approximately 35% were current drinkers at interview. Forty-five percent of participants were never drinkers and 20.8% were past drinkers.

Study findings: 

The association between the number of alcoholic drinks per week (dpw) and breast cancer was estimated using statistical analysis, adjusting for any potential  (factor that may affect the relationship between variables being studied, i.e. oral contraceptive use). Results were analyzed by breast cancer subtype: 

  • Compared to light drinkers, women who reported drinking 14 or more dpw were 33% more likely to develop breast cancer.
    • Women who drank 7 or more dpw were almost 40% more likely to develop triple negative disease.
  • "Never drinkers," who made up 45% of all women in this study, were 12% more likely to develop breast cancer than light drinkers.
  • Risk associated with alcohol intake did not vary significantly by oral contraceptive use, smoking status or menopausal status.

Women who previously drank alcohol but later stopped had lower risk than women who reported that they recently drank alcohol, suggesting that women may be able to reduce their breast cancer risk by reducing their alcohol consumption.


The analysis included relatively few women who drank heavily, making the findings less statistically significant. In addition, researchers did not have information on reasons for alcohol abstinence, which could shed light on the elevated risk observed among never drinkers in this study. The results of this study were derived by pooling data from 4 individual studies, and thus may be affected by differences between the studies. Finally, the results are likely impacted by (a participant’s ability to remember their alcohol consumption).


Among African American women, drinking 7 or more alcoholic drinks per week was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, regardless of breast cancer subtype. According to the senior researcher, Melissa A. Troester, PhD, the results of this study indicate that the same risk factors that have been documented in previous research apply to Black women as well. "Alcohol is an important modifiable exposure, whereas many other risk factors are not," she said. "Women who are concerned about their risk of breast cancer could consider reducing levels of exposure."

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Posted 10/27/17

Expert Guidelines
Expert Guidelines

The American Cancer Society (ACS) guidelines on exercise, nutrition and weight for cancer prevention recommend the following: 

Diet and nutrition

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern, including:
    • foods that are high in nutrients in amounts that help you acheive and maintain a healthy body weight.
    • a variety of vegetables, fiber-rich legumes (beans and peas) and whole fruits in a variety of colors. Consume at least 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables and 1½ to 2 cups of fruit each day, depending on your calorie requirements. 
    • whole grains rather than refined grains. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. 
  • A healthy eating pattern that limits or does not include:
    • red and processed meats.
    • sugar-sweetened beverages. 
    • highly processed foods and refined grain products.
  • It is best not to drink alcohol. People who choose to drink alcohol should:
    • have no more than 1 drink per day (women) or 2 drinks per day (men).


  • Exercise regularly.
    • Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (equal to a brisk walk) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (heart rate is increased, breathing is faster and you are sweating) each week, preferably spread throughout the week.
    • Physical activity has been shown to lower the risk of several types of cancer, including breast, endometrial, and colon. It also reduces the risk of other serious diseases including diabetes and heart disease.


  • Achieve and keep a healthy weight.
    • Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many cancers, including breast, colon, endometrial and pancreatic. You can control your weight through regular exercise and healthy eating.

Other experts, including the following, also provide guidelines for exercise, nutrition and health: 

Updated: 07/19/2022

Questions To Ask Your Doctor
Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • What is my breast cancer risk?
  • What are some ways I can lower that risk?
  • Is it ok to drink one or two alcoholic beverages per week?
  • Is there anything else I can do to lower my risk for breast cancer?

Open Clinical Trials
Open Clinical Trials

The following are studies focused on nutrition and cancer prevention. 

Multiple cancers

Breast cancer

Colorectal cancer

Visit our Featured Research Page and Research Search and Enroll Tool to find additional studies enrolling people with or at high risk for cancer.

Updated: 05/28/2023

Find Experts
Find Experts

The following resources can help you locate a nutritionist near you or via telehealth

Finding nutritionists

  • You can find a registered dietician in your area through, the website for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Search for nutritionists by specialty, including "cancer," "weight management" and "heart health."

Related experts

  • The YMCA has a free program called Livestrong at the YMCA. This program includes a free 12-week membership and fitness training with certified exercise experts. You can search by zip code for a program near you.  

Other ways to find experts

  • Register for the FORCE Message Boards and post on the Find a Specialist board to connect with other people who share your situation. 
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer centers have specialists to manage the symptoms and side effects from cancer prevention or treatment. 
  • FORCE partners with Savor Health® to provide free, personalized, evidence-based nutrition support 24/7 and “on-demand" through their text-based Intelligent Nutrition Assistant (Ina®). You can subscribe here


Updated: 11/20/2023

Who covered this study?

UK Reuters

African American women not immune to alcohol-breast cancer link This article rates 4.5 out of 5 stars

Science Daily

Alcohol is associated with higher risk of breast cancer in African-American women This article rates 3.5 out of 5 stars


The link between alcohol and breast cancer Is stronger This article rates 1.5 out of 5 stars

Nature World News

Alcohol linked to increased cases of breast cancer in African-American women This article rates 1.0 out of 5 stars

How we rated the media

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