Breast cancer is on nearly every woman’s mind. Girls grow up hearing about family risks, about grandmothers, mothers and aunts with the disease. Now there’s evidence that links alcohol, estrogen and a breast cancer gene. In fact, alcohol may even reduce the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments.
Personal risks of breast cancer
More than 230,000 women in the United States will develop breast cancer this year. Family history, genetics and breast density are uncontrollable risk factors.
Most women know that heavy drinking increases breast cancer risk. However, they may not realize that the risk is high even with moderate consumption.
The link between alcohol and breast cancer
Researchers from the University of Houston in Texas analyzed this link. The statistics linking breast cancer risk and alcohol are compelling, as each year, tens of thousands of breast cancer cases in the United States and Europe are linked to alcohol consumption, research shows. Alcohol is also linked to an increased risk of cancer recurrence in women with early-stage breast cancer.
This may be shocking news to many women, including those already diagnosed with breast cancer, as they often drink at least some alcohol. Red wine, for example, is considered heart-healthy.
Women need more information and insight to balance their alcohol consumption with the potential health risks, the researchers said. Also, cancer patients may want to consider the potential detrimental effects of alcohol on treatments and modify their habits accordingly.
Alcohol’s link with estrogen
Researchers established that alcohol affects several cancer-related mechanisms in the body. Alcohol is believed to flip an estrogen switch linked with the breast cancer gene BRAF, which fuels growth of breast cancer cells. This same switch appears to dilute the effects of tamoxifen, the cancer drug that is supposed to block estrogen’s activity, preventing recurrences, researchers added.
Even a few drinks every week over many years can increase breast cancer risk, according to the American Cancer Society. The type of alcohol doesn’t seem to matter; quantity over a lifetime does.
Implications for women young and old
Middle-aged women interested in hormone replacement therapy should take note, as alcohol affects hormones women take to manage their symptoms. College-age women could be affected by these findings, as drinking is so prevalent on campuses.
Hopefully, these findings will motivate women – young and old – to make healthy lifestyle choices.