With the month of October dedicated to breast cancer awareness, many of us as women want to know what we can do to lower our risks of developing breast cancer. There are many different factors that are associated with breast cancer including: gender, age, genetic make-up, race and ethnicity, family history, weight, eating habits and activity level. However, there is another risk factor that many of us may be unaware of and that is alcohol consumption.
Multiple studies have shown that women who regularly consume alcohol of any kind have an elevated risk of developing breast cancer. This risk is not limited to those women who have higher levels of alcohol intake or binge drink. Studies link even relatively small amounts of alcohol intake, about three to six drinks a week, to moderate increases in breast cancer risk.
Another interesting fact is that alcohol consumption can also play a role in the recurrence of the cancer. In a study led by Dr. Marilyn Kwan of Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, women who consumed three or more drinks per week were 34% more likely to have a breast cancer relapse than those who refrained from drinking. And for the heavy drinkers, the mortality risk increased 51%.
You may ask yourself, “How could my alcohol intake affect my risks for developing breast cancer?” Studies have shown that alcohol increases estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer and may damage DNA inside cells. As women, even moderate alcohol consumption could potentially expose our cells to toxic substances and thus put those cells at risk for developing cancer.
If you are serious about lowering your risk for developing breast cancer, lessening or even forgoing alcohol makes sense; however this may not be so easy if one is struggling with her alcohol use and possible addiction. For women who are struggling with possible addiction, seek help and for those who know someone who may have a problem with alcohol, encourage her to seek help as well. There are many programs available that support women who are struggling and some are free, such as 12 step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Choose a healthy lifestyle by limiting your regular alcohol consumption, empower yourself, and make sure you are doing all you can to make sure your breast cancer risk is as low as possible. We need to take care of ourselves as women and together we can do it.
Brenda Iliff is the Clinical Director for Caron Texas, a leading nonprofit addiction treatment center. For more information, please visit http://www.carontexas.org.