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Alcohol is a risk factor for breast cancer in women.[1][2][3][4][5]

A woman drinking an average of two units of alcohol per day has 8% higher of developing breast cancer than a woman who drinks an average of one unit of alcohol per day.[6] A study of more than 1,280,000 middle-aged British women concluded that for every additional drink regularly consumed per day, the incidence of breast cancer increases by 11 per 1000.[7] Approximately 6% (between 3.2% and 8.8%) of breast cancers reported in the UK each year could be prevented if drinking was reduced to a very low level (i.e. less than 1 unit/week).[6]

Among women, breast cancer comprises 60% of alcohol-attributable cancers.[8]

A study of 17,647 nurses found that high drinking levels more than doubled risk of breast cancer with 2% increase risk for each additional drink per week consumed. Binge drinking of 4–5 drinks increases the risk by 55%.[9]



Mastectomy specimen containing a very large cancer of the breast (in this case, an invasive ductal carcinoma).

The mechanisms of increased breast cancer risk by alcohol may be:

  • Increased estrogen and androgen levels[10]
  • Enhanced mammary gland susceptibility to carcinogenesis[10]
  • Increased mammary DNA damage[10]
  • Greater metastatic potential of breast cancer cells[10]

Their magnitude likely depends on the amount of alcohol consumed.[10]

Susceptibility to the breast cancer risk of alcohol may also be increased by other dietary factors, (e.g. folate deficiency), lifestyle habits (including use of hormone replacement therapy), or biological characteristics (e.g. as hormone receptor expression in tumor cells).[10]

A study on mice suggests that, when breast cancer is established, drinking as little as two alcoholic drinks a day increases the growth rate of tumors. Alcohol causes cancer cells' blood vessels to grow which in turn fuels the growth of the tumor, a process known as angiogenesis.[11]

In daughters of drinking mothers

Studies suggest that drinking alcohol during pregnancy may affect the likelihood of breast cancer in daughters. "For women who are pregnant, ingestion of alcohol, even in moderation, may lead to elevated circulating oestradiol levels, either through a reduction of melatonin or some other mechanism. This may then affect the developing mammary tissue such that the lifetime risk of breast cancer is raised in their daughters."[12]

Type of drink

Studies are ambiguous, with some stating that the type of drink is not a factor,[13] while one study suggests that women who frequently drink red wine may have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.[14]

Moderate drinking

Moderate alcohol consumption has also been found to increase the breast cancer risk.[15]

One of the largest studies of its kind has found that alcohol is a substantial risk factor for development of the most common type of breast cancer - the 70% of tumors that are classified as positive for both the estrogen and progesterone receptors (ER+/PR+). Researchers report that even moderate alcohol consumption, defined as one or two drinks per day, increased risk of developing this kind of cancer, and the more a woman drank, the higher her risk. Compared to women who did not drink at all, women who had three or more glasses of alcohol daily had as much as a 51% increased risk of ER+/PR+ breast cancer.[16]

In contrast, research by the Danish National Institute for Public Health, comprising 13,074 women aged 20 to 91 years, found that moderate drinking had virtually no effect on breast cancer risk.[17]


Moderate to heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages (at least three to four drinks per week) is associated with a 1.3-fold increased risk of the recurrence of breast cancer.[18][19]

In men

In men, breast cancer is rare, with an incidence of fewer than one case per 100,000 men.[20] Population studies have returned mixed results about excessive consumption of alcohol as a risk factor. One study suggests that alcohol consumption may increase risk at a rate of 16% per 10g daily alcohol consumption.[21] Others have shown no effect at all, though these studies had small populations of alcoholics.[22]


  1. "What Are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer?". American Cancer Society. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
  2. "What You Need To Know About Breast Cancer". National Cancer Institute.
  3. "Definite breast cancer risks". CancerHelp UK. Cancer Research UK.
  4. "Guide to Breast Cancer". American Society of Clinical Oncology. 2008. p. 6. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
  5. Room, R; Babor, T; Rehm, J (2005). "Alcohol and public health". The Lancet 365: 519. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)17870-2.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Non-Technical Summary Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food Consumer Products and the Environment (COC)
  7. Allen NE, Beral V, Casabonne D, et al. (March 2009). "Moderate alcohol intake and cancer incidence in women". Journal of the National Cancer Institute 101 (5): 296–305. doi:10.1093/jnci/djn514. PMID 19244173.
  8. Boffetta, Paolo; Hashibe, Mia; La Vecchia, Carlo; Zatonski, Witold; Rehm, Jürgen (23 March 2006). "The burden of cancer attributable to alcohol drinking". International Journal of Cancer (Wiley-Liss, Inc) 119 (4): 884–887. doi:10.1002/ijc.21903. PMID 16557583. Retrieved 9 October 2006.
  9. Mørch LS, Johansen D, Thygesen LC, et al. (December 2007). "Alcohol drinking, consumption patterns and breast cancer among Danish nurses: a cohort study". European Journal of Public Health 17 (6): 624–9. doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckm036. PMID 17442702.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Singletary KW, Gapstur SM (2001). "Alcohol and breast cancer: review of epidemiologic and experimental evidence and potential mechanisms". JAMA 286 (17): 2143–51. doi:10.1001/jama.286.17.2143. PMID 11694156.
  11. BBC News Drinking 'fuels growth of tumour' 1 May 2007
  12. Stevens RG, Hilakivi-Clarke L (2001). "Alcohol exposure in utero and breast cancer risk later in life". Alcohol and Alcoholism 36 (3): 276–7. doi:10.1093/alcalc/36.3.276. PMID 11373268.
  13. Jeremy Laurance Three drinks a day increases risk of breast cancer by a third The Independent 27 September 2007
  14. M Maggiolini, A G Recchia, D Bonofiglio, S Catalano, A Vivacqua, A Carpino, V Rago, R Rossi and S Andò (October 2005). "The red wine phenolics piceatannol and myricetin act as agonists for estrogen receptor alpha in human breast cancer cells". J Mol Endocrinol 35 (2): 269–81. doi:10.1677/jme.1.01783. PMID 16216908.
  15. Zhang SM, Lee IM, Manson JE, Cook NR, Willett WC, Buring JE (March 2007). "Alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk in the Women's Health Study". Am J Epidemiol 165 (6): 667–76. doi:10.1093/aje/kwk054. PMID 17204515.
  16. How What and How Much We Eat (And Drink) Affects Our Risk of Cancer
  17. Petri AL, Tjønneland A, Gamborg M, et al. (July 2004). "Alcohol intake, type of beverage, and risk of breast cancer in pre- and postmenopausal women". Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research 28 (7): 1084–90. doi:10.1097/01.ALC.0000130812.85638.E1. PMID 15252295.
  18. American Association for Cancer Research Alcohol Consumption Increases Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence 10 December 2009
  19. BBC Alcohol link to breast cancer recurrence 11 December 2009
  20. Male Breast Cancer
  21. Template:Cite doi
  22. Template:Cite pmid

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