Alcohol Increases Risk Of Breast Cancer Recurrence

Posted Wed, 12/16/2009 - 9:21am by Fred Lee

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A recent article in the New York Times has revealed that breast cancer survivors who drink as little as two to three drinks per week are more likely to experience a recurrence of their cancer than survivors who drank little to no alcohol at all. The study looked at almost 2000 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer and assessed their level of alcohol consumption. Approximately half of the subjects reported drinking alcohol regularly, with wine being the beverage of choice.

After eight years of follow up, researchers found that women who drank three to four standard servings of alcohol per week, or the equivalent of three to four glasses of wine, were 34% more likely to experience a recurrence of their cancer than women who drank significantly less. The risk was most prominent in women who were post-menopausal or overweight.

Doctors are not sure what the relationship between alcohol and breast cancer is, but one connection may involve the production of estrogen. Previous studies in animal models have indicated that alcohol consumption may increase levels of circulating estrogen and estrogen metabolism.

Estrogen, of course, is a very important hormone. It is responsible for the development of female characteristics and sexual reproduction, as well as controlling the production of cholesterol and maintenance of our bones.

However, because it is responsible for cell growth, it can also influence cancer cell growth in the uterus and breast tissue. Certain tumor cells have receptors that respond to estrogen and as a result, will grow in the presence of the hormone. It is estimated that 75% of breast cancer cells are estrogen receptor positive. Because of this, anti-cancer regimens will often attempt to block or inhibit it estrogen order to discourage the growth of these cells.

Therefore, patients who are diagnosed with estrogen sensitive tumors might want to keep these facts in mind. While the evidence is not solid enough to call for complete abstinence from alcohol, drinking is one of the few lifestyle choices that is simple and straightforward enough to warrant consideration.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there were over 190,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in 2009, and an estimated 40,000 new deaths. Breast cancer primarily effects women, with cases in men being rare.

For more information, speak to your physician, and check out the website for the National Cancer Institute and




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