Alcohol And Breast Cancer – Is There A Link?

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It’s no secret that alcohol can be a dangerous substance – especially when abused. Alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder (e.g alcohol dependence/ alcohol addiction) can cause physical health issues, mental health issues, and affect all areas of your life.

Alcohol consumption has also been linked to certain types of cancer – but is it linked to breast cancer? That’s what we are going to explore on this page.

Read on to learn more about the dangers of alcohol, the links between alcohol consumption and cancers, and whether alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer.

The Dangers Of Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol can affect all areas of your life and can pose many health risks. It can worsen existing mental health issues and contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.

When you consume alcohol on a regular basis or excessive amounts of alcohol, you run the risk of developing an alcohol addiction and physical dependence – which can be difficult to break.

Binge Drinking/ Alcohol Abuse

Binge drinking can lead to many negative effects on both your body and your mind. It classes as a form of alcohol use disorder – but differs from addiction.

You don’t have to have alcohol dependence in order to binge drink – instead, binge drinking and alcohol abuse are classed as dangerous drinking patterns where you drink an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time.

Although there is no safe level of alcohol to drink, drinking in moderation and being mindful when drinking alcohol can reduce the risk of developing long-term health issues.

The NHS guidelines suggest that you drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week – spread across the span of three days or more. This is the same as around six medium glasses of wine or six pints of 4% cider, beer, or lager.

As well as physical health issues, binge drinking can lead to relationship problems, financial problems, and mental health issues. It can also increase the risk of drinking-related legal issues – for example, drink-driving or violent crime.

Binge drinking doesn’t always have to be a regular occurrence – people who abuse alcohol may only binge drink once or twice a week – but to the extent that it causes physical health problems.

Excessive drinking can also lead to blackouts and memory lapses – this is when you don’t remember events that occurred while you were intoxicated.

You may be surprised at how big a problem binge drinking is in the UK. In England, 18.1% of adults were drinking at an increased risk in the three months nearing the end of October 2021. This means that roughly eight million people drink excessively.

Alcohol poisoning is a big risk when it comes to binge drinking. Alcohol affects how your central nervous system works. It occurs when your blood alcohol levels are extremely high – and affects certain areas of your brain that control life-supporting functions.

Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency – some symptoms of alcohol poisoning can be deadly.

For example, the combination of vomiting and unconsciousness can lead to a person choking on their own vomit. Some other symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, slowed-down breathing, seizures, and cold, pale, or clammy skin.

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Physical Health Issues

It is no secret that alcohol intake is linked to a wide range of health issues. In fact, alcohol consumption has been found to be a causal factor in over 60 physical health issues – but the figure is thought to be much higher.

Alcohol can affect you physically in both the short-term and long-term. For example, it can lead to alcohol poisoning, which is a short-term effect, and it can also damage your organs in the long term. It affects your brain, central nervous system., heart, liver, pancreas, and many more.

Alcohol misuse can also weaken your immune system, ultimately making you more vulnerable to infections. This means that you could get seriously ill if you catch a common infection.

Drinking alcohol regularly and excessively can also weaken your bones, which means you may be more likely to fracture or break your bones. This can make occurrences such as falling over, which should be relatively harmless, very dangerous.

Heavy drinking has also been linked to increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels – which means if you drink a lot, you may be at an increased risk of having a stroke or a heart attack.

Alcohol abuse and excessive alcohol consumption can have secondary and tertiary health effects. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, strains the muscles in your heart. This can lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD), meaning you’ll be more prone to heart attacks.

Over time, alcohol consumption can have a huge effect on your brain and how it functions. It can affect the communication pathways in your brain in both the short term and the long term, and make it tough for the areas of your brain that control speech, balance, judgement and memory to function effectively.

Long-term alcohol use and alcohol abuse impact your brain’s neurons, causing them to reduce in size. As well as affecting your brain physically, alcohol can affect your mood and behaviour, and make it hard for you to think clearly.

Another risk associated with alcohol is ARBD – alcohol-related brain damage. ARBD is more likely to affect those aged between 40 and 50 – but it isn’t limited to this age group. ARBD is a brain disorder that can vary in severity and can cause serious cognitive impairment.

Alcohol is heavily linked to liver damage – it can affect how your liver functions. Heavy drinking can lead to inflammation of the liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fatty liver (also known as steatosis), fibrosis, and cirrhosis of the liver.

ARLD – alcohol-related liver damage – isn’t something that should be taken lightly. The number of people with ARBD has risen over the last few decades, as the levels of alcohol misuse have increased.

Alcohol Dependence/ Alcohol Use Disorder

Drinking regularly, or drinking excessively/ abusing alcohol, can increase the risk of you developing an alcohol use disorder.

You may have heard the terms ‘alcoholic’ and ‘alcohol addiction’ but medical professionals steer clear of these terms – instead categorising alcohol problems as alcohol use disorder/ AUD.

This can vary in severity, diagnosed as either mild, moderate, or severe. This described alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction. It is characterised by the lack of control over alcohol consumption, and the urge to drink alcohol despite any negative effects that may occur.

People with moderate to severe alcohol use disorder may struggle to control how much they drink, when they drink, what they drink, how often they drink, and when they stop drinking. It is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder that affects over 14 million adults in the UK.

If you think you or a loved one may have alcohol dependence, it’s important to get the right help.

At Help4Addiction, we can find the right treatment plan for you, finding you the best local rehab centre that meets your needs and preferences. Contact our friendly team of experts today to get the ball rolling on the admissions process.

Does Alcohol Increase The Risk of Developing Cancer?

Cancer isn’t something anybody wants to think about – but unfortunately, if you drink large amounts of alcohol, you may have a higher chance of developing certain types of cancer (alcohol-related cancers). Alcohol consumption is classed as a known human carcinogen.

The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens found that alcohol consumption can be a causal factor in several types of cancer.

The more you drink over time, the higher the risk of developing alcohol-related cancer. However, it increases breast cancer risk even if you only drink once or twice a week (but drink excessive amounts).

Some cancers that alcohol can increase the chances of developing include head and neck cancers (e.g larynx, oral cavity, and pharynx), and oesophagal cancer (aka oesophagal squamous cell carcinoma.

You may also be at a higher risk of developing liver cancer and colorectal cancers if you drink alcohol heavily or regularly.

Alcohol And Breast Cancer

Alcohol may also increase breast cancer risk. Breast cancer is a disease caused by the cells in the breast changing and growing out of control.

There are different types of breast cancer that occur depending on which cells in the breast turn into cancer – however, most breast cancers originate in the breast ducts or lobules (the glands that produce milk).

Breast cancer can spread outside of the breast, through lymph and blood vessels. This process is called metastasis.

Amongst women, breast cancer is the most common cancer – in fact, it’s the most diagnosed cancer in the world.

Although alcohol and breast cancer are linked and alcohol can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, you don’t automatically get it if you drink alcohol – and avoiding alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get breast cancer.

But how much alcohol can increase breast cancer risk? Well, roughly 4,400 cases of breast cancer per year are caused by drinking alcohol – and the risk of developing breast cancer increases even with mild alcohol consumption or moderate alcohol consumption.

This means that if you drink more than one alcohol unit per day (e.g a glass of wine) you may be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Research suggests that alcohol and breast cancer are linked – the more you drink over a lifetime, the higher the breast cancer risk – as well as other types of cancer.

Breast cancer is linked to oestrogen levels – and alcohol consumption can increase the levels of oestrogen in the body, as well as other hormones that are linked with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol consumption also damages DNA in cells, which poses a cancer risk.

Women that have around three alcoholic drinks per week maybe 15% more likely to develop breast cancer – with the risk increasing by 10% per additional drink that women have per day.

Other Causes of Breast Cancer

Alcohol consumption isn’t the only cause of breast cancer. Other factors such as age, family history, hormones, and lifestyle factors can all increase breast cancer risk. Breast cancer is more common in women over the age of 50 – women that have been through menopause.

This is why women between the ages of 50 – 70 should be screened for breast cancer regularly, every three years, as part of an NHS breast screening programme. Around 8 out of 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women over the age of 50.

Having close relatives who have had ovarian or breast cancer can put you at an increased risk of developing it. That being said, breast cancer doesn’t typically run in families – but genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 can increase the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Being overweight and obese can also pose an increased breast cancer risk – as it is thought to be connected to the oestrogen levels in your body. Being obese or overweight and being post-menopause typically leads to higher levels of oestrogen being produced.

Another risk factor of breast cancer is previous history of breast cancer – breast cancer recurrence. If you’ve previously had early non-invasive cancer cell changes in your breast ducts or breast cancer, then you may be more likely to develop it again.

How To Lower The Risk Of Developing Breast Cancer

Like with any cancer, the best way to lower the risk of developing breast cancer is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. That being said – you can’t entirely prevent breast cancer; you can just lower the risk.

A healthy lifestyle involves taking care of your diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding drinking alcohol on a regular basis.

As we’ve established in this post, the more you drink, the higher the risk of developing breast cancer.

Avoid drinking more than one alcoholic drink a day, as even a small amount of alcohol can contribute to breast cancer risk. Avoid smoking too – tobacco and alcohol use have both been found to be a breast cancer risk.

Ensuring you have a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help you to maintain a healthy weight, which can lower the risk of breast cancer.

Physical activity is important for general well-being and overall physical health – so aim for around 150 minutes of exercise a week. Walking can be helpful if you’re not used to strenuous exercise. It’s also important to check your breasts regularly and look out for breast cancer signs.

If you notice any changes in your breasts – whether it be changes in the skin, or new lumps forming, then be sure to consult your doctor or a medical health professional. Follow the doctor’s advice in regards to mammograms and other breast cancer screenings.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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