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Study: Does light alcohol consumption affect your breast cancer risk?

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Contents

At a glance                  In-depth
Findings               Limitations                
Questions for your doctor Resources
Guidelines  


STUDY AT A GLANCE

This study is about:

Understanding how breast cancer occurrence and mortality relate to drinking alcohol, focusing on “light” drinking.

Why is this study important?

Breast cancer has many causes, most of which cannot be controlled. Drinking alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer, people can use that information to decide if they want to change their alcohol consumption as a lifestyle modification to lower their breast cancer risk.

Study findings: 

  1. About 9% (144,000) of global breast cancer cases result from alcohol consumption.
    • About 19% of this group consists of women who were considered “light” drinkers (less than two drinks per day).
  2. About 7% (38,000) of global breast cancer deaths result from alcohol consumption.  
    • About 18% of this group consists of women who were considered “light” drinkers (less than two drinks per day).

What does this mean for me?

Many studies have pointed to alcohol consumption as a risk factor for breast cancer. This study suggests that “light” drinking can contribute to breast cancer occurrences and deaths. While the study authors define “light” drinking as less than two drinks per day, the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that women consume one drink per day at most. Women should try to follow these guidelines. It is important to keep in mind that consuming one drink will not cause cancer.

Posted 06/21/16

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References

Shield KD, Soerjomataram I, Rehm J. “Alcohol Use and Breast Cancer: A Critical Review.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2016 June; vol. 40, no. 61: 1166-1181

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition. 2015; Washington, DC.

Disclosure

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:

Women who drink alcohol and are concerned about their breast cancer risk.

This article is also relevant for:

Women under 45

Women over 45

Healthy people with average cancer risk

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IN DEPTH REVIEW OF RESEARCH

Study background:

Alcohol is a (something that is capable of causing cancer), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has confirmed a relationship between alcohol and breast cancer. However, because the link between “light” alcohol consumption and breast cancer is still controversial, Kevin D. Shield and his colleagues from the Section of Cancer Surveillance published research in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in June 2016 to better understand this relationship.

Researchers of this study wanted to know:

Is “light” drinking a contributor to breast cancer occurrence and mortality?   

Population(s) looked at in the study:

The study researchers pooled data together from two databases: GLOBOCAN 2012 for the estimated number of breast cancer cases by age, sex, and country; and the Global Information System on Alcohol and Health for alcohol consumption information. Researchers then developed a model that combined the information from both databases to model the alcohol consumption for the population. They used a method called Population-Attributable Fraction to determine the amount of breast cancer cases and mortality that were due to alcohol consumption.

Study findings: 

  1. About 9% (144,000) of global breast cancer cases result from alcohol consumption.
    • About 61% of this group is 60 years old or younger.
    • About 19% of this group consists of women who were considered “light” drinkers (less than two drinks per day).
    • Breast cancer cases were most common in Northern and Western Europe.
  2. About 7% (38,000) of global breast cancer deaths result from alcohol consumption.
    • About 50% of this group is 60 years old or younger.
    • About 18% of this group consists of women who were considered “light” drinkers (less than two drinks per day).
    • Breast cancer mortality was most common in Central and Eastern Europe.

Limitations:

Because researchers used secondary data—they didn’t collect it themselves—they weren’t able to ask questions about alcohol consumption, or control for other issues or factors that they might have wanted to know. Additionally, they were unable to assess how “light” drinking affected women who are already at higher risk of breast cancer (due to mutations, for example). And while the researchers were able to look at the percentage of breast cancer incidence and mortality for patients 60 years old and younger and patients older than 60 years, they did not break up the age groups further (for example, 40-49, 50-59, etc.). Finally, their computer modeling does not take into account the cancer burdens between different populations, such as people from a lower socioeconomic group (where research has shown an increased breast cancer mortality) or between different ethnic groups.

Conclusions:

This study suggests that “light” drinking does result in breast cancer occurrence and mortality for some people. While this study relied on previously collected data and estimates from a computer program to develop these results, considerable prior research has established the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests women drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day.  Women should try to follow this recommendation, and to keep in mind that consuming one drink will not cause cancer. Cancer is complicated and caused by multiple factors, many of which cannot be controlled.

06/21/16

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 get to and stay at 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

  • 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 such as diabetes and heart disease.

Weight

  • 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

  • How does alcohol consumption affect my breast cancer risk?
  • I drink more than 1 alcoholic drink per day. Should I cut back?
  • What are other lifestyle changes I can make to lower my breast cancer risk?

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: 12/05/2021

Find Experts
Find Experts

Nutritionists and dieticians are experts in food and diet with a focus on helping people maintain or improve their health. Dieticians are experts who have received additional training and certification. You can find a registered dietician in your area through Eatright.org, the website for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can search for nutritionists by specialty, including "cancer," "weight management" and "heart health."

Updated: 12/26/2022

Who covered this study?

Clare County Review

New study links light alcohol consumption to increased risk of breast cancer This article rates 3.5 out of 5 stars

Medical News Today

Breast cancer risk rises even with light alcohol use This article rates 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Drinks Business

New study links 'light drinking' to increased risk of breast cancer This article rates 3.0 out of 5 stars

How we rated the media

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