Disturbing link between alcohol and breast cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month Source: Getty

Sobering statistics reveal a consistent link between those who drink and the incidence of breast cancer as Australia marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October.

Compared with women who don’t drink at all, those who consume three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15 per cent higher risk of the disease. According to figures released last month by Cancer Australia, in 2019 there were 3,243 deaths from breast cancer in Australia (31 males and 3,212 females). In 2021, it is estimated that there will be 3,138 deaths (36 males and 3,102 females).

Last year, Olivia Newton-John opened up about her struggle with breast cancer, a disease which has also plagued American actress Shannen Doherty and claimed the life of John Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston.

A report released by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) reveals one in 10 breast cancers are linked to alcohol use.

“Alcohol is also a significant risk factor for seven other types of cancer, and this risk increases as the consumption of alcohol increases,” the report states.

“Australians need to be aware of these risks so that they can make educated decisions.”

According to the ADF:

  • There is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol or other drug use when it comes to cancer
  • Alcohol is carcinogenic and linked to a number of cancers
  • It is important that Australian women aged 50 and over have their free breast cancer check every two years

A Californian social media campaign – #Drink Less for Your Breasts – has also jumped on the bandwagon, clearly outlining the dangers of alcohol consumption and breast cancer stating:

  • Alcohol messes with your oestrogen levels – oestrogen can encourage breast cells to grow and multiply, which can lead to increases in breast density, and higher breast density is known to increase the risk of developing breast cancer
  • Alcohol messes with your folate levels – It reduces your levels of folate which is important in how DNA is made and maintained. If disrupting a cell’s DNA it can become damaged making it more likely it will become cancerous
  • Alcohol breaks down into acetaldehyde – Acetaldehyde is a cancer-causing agent that damages your DNA and keeps your body from repairing the damage

Research and care charity Breast Cancer Now believes just one alcoholic drink a day can increase your risk, although you can still develop breast cancer even if you do not drink.

“The earlier in your life you start to reduce your drinking, the better,” they state.

“There isn’t enough evidence to suggest that any type of drink is more of a risk than others. We do know that the size, alcohol content and the number of drinks can affect your risk.

“It is not yet known whether binge drinking on one or two days a week leads to a higher risk of breast cancer than drinking the same amount spread evenly throughout the week.”

According to Breast Cancer Now, in a group of women who do not drink, about six will probably develop breast cancer in their lifetime. In a group of women who drink two units of alcohol a day, about seven will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Click here for more information on Breast Cancer Awareness month.

If you haven’t already, and you’re due, book in for your mammogram today.

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