Ladies, Cut Down on Alcohol to Lower Risk of Breast Cancer

Nearly a lakh women die of breast cancer every year in the country - that’s the highest in any Asian country.

3 min read
Nearly a lakh women die of breast cancer every year in the country.

(October is breast cancer awareness month, bringing attention to a disease that is now the leading cancer affecting women in India.)

Cancer kills more than a million Indians annually and affects many more. It is the second biggest killer after heart ailments, and the diagnosis is pretty shattering.

As for breast cancer, nearly a lakh women die of breast cancer every year in India. That’s the highest in any Asian country, twice as much as the US, which has an incredibly high incidence of breast cancer.

In a time of such disturbing numbers, when an item is termed a carcinogen (substance causing cancer), we sit up and listen. There’s been a lot of debate on where alcohol sits when it comes to carcinogens. While there are views that alcohol in moderation is good for health, there are also studies that point to a link between alcohol and cancer.

Too caught up to read? Listen to the story here:


Dr Kabir Rehmani, Consultant, Department of Surgical Oncology, Fortis Hospital, Noida, links alcohol to breast cancer in no equivocal terms:

Many studies show having 1-2 drinks (or more) of alcohol per day increases the risk of breast cancer. A meta-analysis that combined the results of 98 studies found women who drank alcohol were 11 percent more likely than non-drinkers to get breast cancer.

How is Alcohol Linked to Cancer?

The effects of alcohol on breast tissue are dismal.
The effects of alcohol on breast tissue are dismal.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

The science behind alcohol being carcinogenic is linked to the way enzymes in the mouth react with alcohol. They convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is a carcinogen. Studies have found that people who consume more than three drinks a day are twice or thrice more likely to develop oral cancer than those who don’t.

While organs like the liver are also significantly affected by alcohol consumption, how it affects the breast tissue is more dismal. Alcohol increases the level of estrogen which triggers cell division in the breast at a faster pace, further increasing chances of cell mutation and tumours. Studies from as early 1970s have pointed out this connection between cancer and alcohol.

The doctor further adds that alcohol contains a lot of extra calories which leads to weight gain. Heavier women tend to have higher blood levels of estrogen, and higher levels of estrogen are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Alcohol can change the way a woman’s body metabolises estrogen and causes blood estrogen levels to rise. These higher estrogen levels may in turn, increase the risk of breast cancer, especially in post menopausal women. Binge drinking (four or more drinks per occasion) is even more hazardous.
Dr Kabir Rehmani

Breast Cancer Risk Increases by 7 Percent for Every Drink

Along with estrogen, alcohol also increases levels of other hormones associated with breast cancer, according to The risk further increases as a result of the damage caused to DNA by alcohol.

One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
(Photo: iStockphoto)

Another study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, terms alcohol a Group 1 carcinogen.

A pooled analysis of data from 53 studies found for each alcoholic drink consumed per day, breast cancer risk increased by about seven percent. Women who had two to three alcoholic drinks per day had a 20 percent higher risk of breast cancer compared to non-drinkers.
Dr Kabir Rehmani

One drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, by

Stephanie Mencimer, a journalist and cancer patient herself believes that the alcohol industry has led us to believe otherwise when it comes to truth about alcohol.

The science on the link (between alcohol and breast cancer) is clear, but the alcohol industry has worked hard to downplay it.
Stephanie Mencimer

All these studies conclude that alcohol consumption is harmful for the health, even if it’s in moderation. Restricting the alcohol intake thus is directly linked to lowering chances of breast cancer.


(With inputs from Mother Jones.)

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