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Alcohol and breast cancer – what you need to know

There’s a lot of scientific evidence to show that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. 

Drinking alcohol doesn’t definitely mean you will get breast cancer – it means your risk is higher.

alcohol and breast cancer

How big is the risk?

There are some risk factors for breast cancer that we have no control over, like getting older or family history (genes).

Alcohol is only one risk factor for developing breast cancer; however it is one we can control.

It’s estimated that 1 in 8 breast cancer cases in Ireland are linked to alcohol.

Worryingly, the 2016 Healthy Ireland survey found that just 16% of women aged 15-24 know that alcohol can cause breast cancer.

Alcohol is a risk factor we can control.

How much alcohol increases the risk?

Even low levels of alcohol consumption (just over 1 standard drink per day) can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

What might be less well known is that the risk of breast cancer is greater among women who start drinking at an early age. Women who drink around two standard drinks a day through their teens and early twenties are three times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who do not drink.

Alcohol intake is linked to breast cancer risk, the more you drink the higher the risk.

How does alcohol cause breast cancer?

Alcohol can increase the levels of some hormones, such as oestrogen. High levels of oestrogen increase the risk of breast cancer.

Alcohol may also increase breast cancer risk – and the risk of other cancers – by damaging DNA in cells.

Is wine better than other types of alcohol?

No. It’s the amount of alcohol that increases the risk – it doesn’t matter if it’s in beer, wine, spirits or other types of alcohol. 

How you can help to reduce your alcohol intake

  • Measure your current level of drinking using the drinks calculator on askaboutalcohol.ie 
  • Try keeping track of what you’re drinking with a drinks diary – note how much you drink, when, and how you felt afterwards.
  • Stay within the weekly guidelines for low risk drinking (no more than 11 standard drinks per week)
  • If drinking at home, use a drinks measure to calculate how much you are pouring.
  • Buy smaller wine glasses, as it will make it easier to drink less and keep track of how much you’re drinking. A big wine glass can hold two standard drinks or more.
  • Don’t get involved in rounds. This means you can drink at your own pace and stay more in control when you’re out.
  • Do something else! Try and think of ways to spend time with friends that don’t have to involve drinking.

How can I reduce my risk of breast cancer?

Cut back on alcohol: When it comes to alcohol and reducing your risk of breast cancer, no amount of alcohol is completely risk-free but the less you drink the lower the risk. 

Be active: Exercise and physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer.

Stay a healthy weight: Staying a healthy weight is especially important in reducing the risk of breast cancer after the menopause as well as reducing the risk of other cancers.

Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding lowers the risk of developing breast cancer. The longer you breastfeed the more the risk is reduced.

Get screened: BreastCheck is the national breast screening programme. All women aged 50 to 64 are invited to have a free mammogram (breast X-ray) every 2 years. For more information see www.breastcheck.ie

Read more

Drink less gain more: Benefits of drinking less, tips for cutting back and drink-free activities.

Alcohol and your health: Alcohol's effects on the body