Alcohol and Breast Cancer: Does Alcohol Increase The Risk?

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Alcohol can be dangerous when abused – alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder can cause physical health issues, and mental health issues, affecting all areas of your life.

Alcohol consumption has also been linked to certain types of cancer. It is a known human carcinogen and can increase the risk of developing several types of cancer.

It could also increase the risk of developing breast cancer, which is why it’s so important to assess your drinking habits and seek support if you’re dealing with alcohol addiction.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease where the cells in the breast grow out of control. These cells can form a lump or tumour that can be felt or seen on a mammogram.

In some cases, breast cancer can spread to other parts of the body if not treated early. It’s most common in women, but men can get it too – although it’s rare. Treatment for breast cancer often involves surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Symptoms of breast cancer include a lump in the breast or armpit, changes in breast size or shape, dimpling or puckering of the skin, nipple changes like scaling or discharge, and redness or warmth. Regular screenings and self-exams can help detect breast cancer early when it’s easier to treat.

There are several signs and symptoms to look out for that could indicate breast cancer, such as:

  • Changes in the shape, size or feel of the breast (for example, dimpling or puckering of the skin)
  • A lump
  • Changes in the nipple (for example, scaling or discharge)
  • Changes in the position of the nipple
  • Pain in the breast


Regular screening and self-exams can help you detect breast cancer early – when it’s easier to treat. If you notice any of these signs, speak with your doctor.

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The Links Between Alcohol and Cancer

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 of alcohol.

Some cancers that alcohol can increase the chances of developing include head and neck cancers (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.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. It is the most diagnosed cancer in the world.

Although binge drinking/ excessive drinking can increase the risk of developing breast cancer, you don’t automatically get it if you drink alcohol – and low-level drinking doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get breast cancer.

So, 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, you may be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Research suggests that 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. Alcohol consumption can increase the levels of oestrogen in the body, as well as other hormones linked with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol consumption also damages DNA in cells, which poses a cancer risk.

Women who have around three alcoholic drinks per week could be 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 the breast cancer risk. Breast cancer is more common in women over the age of 50 – women who 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. 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 for 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 Reduce 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 assessing your level of drinking.

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 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.

If you need support quitting alcohol, our team at Help4Addiction can secure the best treatment for you. Trust us to provide effective and personalised advice, and help you get on the road to recovery.

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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